William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” takes place during an era of new beliefs, opinions, and an atypical way of life for the US. Faulkner illustrates a clear depiction of this change that the South faces. The change that takes place in the town and Emily’s retaliation of the changes represent the devastation of the South at the time. The house can also be seen as a representation of the changing South and as an analogy for Emily and her life. “A Rose for Emily” is told from the perspective of an unidentified inhabitant of the town where the story occurs.
Emily’s family, the Grierson family, was practically celebrities and put on a high pedestal. Mr. Grierson, Emily’s father, was known to be strict in raising Emily. After he died, she felt connections and bonds with him, understandably so. Her father taught her to be proud of the South, and her loyalty, devotion and love of the South came from him. In the story, Emily seems to find comfort in surrounding herself with things that reminded her of the past. She remains in the untouched house, potentially, as a result of her father’s death as her reaction was quite queer.
Emily’s social plummet and withdrawal in the story represented the South as well. Emily, referred to as a “fallen monument,” in the story, was once a symbol of what the South once stood for. She really “falls” when she dies and perishes. Throughout the story, she disappears gradually from the strong and vibrant person to a person who wanted to be hidden because she was living in the shadows of her past. She proves to be living in the shadows of her past when the town discovers that she kept the body of her father in the house after he died and denied the fact that he had passed.
She is reluctant to let go of the past and is trying to keep grasp of everything in the past that lingers. All her life, she had been treated as somewhat of a celebrity. But soon after her father’s death “it got about that the house was all that was left to her, and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily” (522). It seems as though Emily felt lost and abandoned after her father passed. These feelings of loneliness push her to find a lover. Homer Barron, her new lover, is a man whom her stringent father would have forbade if he was alive. “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily” (523).
Homer embodies and signifies a change in her life or a breath of fresh air. He serves as a representation of the “New South. ” He was “a Yankee – a big, dark, ready man with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face” (523). Emily began to come to terms with the fact that her relationship, even her affiliation, with Homer was prohibited. This was because of who she was, or who she was perceived: a high class woman. Emily began to look down upon the fact that she was with a man who symbolized the destroying of the family and of the idea of the “Old South,” After this realization, Homer began to slowly vanish and fade away.
Following Homer’s disappearance was Emily’s disappearance. “From that time on, the front door remained closed” (525). Emily went into hiding and hid herself away for years in the house. This has many parallels with the transforming South. The house was “once white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street” (521) and turned into “an eyesore among eyesores” (521). This explains what Miss Emily was once like.
Times started to change for the South as well and “cotton gins and auto garages” replaced the houses. Because of these new changes that came along with modernization and industrialization, Emily and her house became the final piece of indication of the rejection to the new ways, her house serving as a remembrance of this. Both the house and the tenant can be seen as suffering with age and abandonment. The darkness and obscurity of the house with a “dim hall from which a stairway mounted into still more shadow” has a tie with Miss Emily herself (521).
She is a “small, fat woman in black…her skeleton small and spare” with a voice that is “dry and cold” (522). After years of seclusion and a yearning to stay in the past, she becomes decayed herself, just as the house becomes. Emily’s soul becomes lost in the house, which represents the past and everything she stands for. The soul of the house also becomes lost, as times change. Something that was once so beautiful and grand is now nothing more than an “eyesore. ” Throughout the story, several characters can be seen to symbolize the changing South that is seen during the story.
These key characters still reflect on the “old” ideas before the South began to change, and as it continued to change. Although the entire town is changing before their eyes, this old generation of thoughts and ideas is still present, although it eventually fades away with time. These characteristic traits are shown through several characters throughout the story through actions they take for Emily, someone who saw things the same way they did. Judge Stevens, 80 years old, still abides by the Old South values in the story.
When a smell began to emerge surrounding Miss Emily’s home, the new townspeople began complaining. Judge Stevens believes in the old generation of ideas. When a woman of the town complains of the smell, she says that Emily should be notified to stop the smell by asking, “Isn’t there a law? ” (522). Judge Stevens speaks against word of the new by saying, “Dammit…will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad? ” (522). This Old South frame of mind is quite apparent regarding the situation with the aroma and how Judge Stevens handled it, by showing self-respect to a fellow person of his time.
After all, when Emily was alive, she was “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (521). The situation with receiving the poison at the pharmacy also reveals the declining, but still present spirit of the Old South, despite the changing times. Upon her demand for arsenic, the pharmacist states, “If that’s what you want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for” (524). Although Emily insists that this drug be given to her despite the law, the pharmacist conforms to her request, even though it really is not allowed.
This action by the pharmacist is standard of the principles of the Old South, as he shows honor and respect for Miss Emily, realizing that this would help her. As changes occur from the movement of the Old South to the New South, transformations are seen all over the town. Just as in the appearance of the town as they “let the contracts for paving the sidewalks the people of the town turned to more modern ideas. At the turn of this new era, some people supported the change while others held onto the past. The town began to change, and those people that agreed with the new thoughts began to step up and recognize their worth.
With its more progressive ideas, the newer generation became the strength of the town. As people of the older generation started to move out of Jefferson, in came the fresh, new minds that represented the New South. Emily still felt ties to the Old South, and so continued to hide herself away in her deteriorating house. It is in that house where she slowly deteriorates as a person. In “A Rose For Emily,” Faulkner makes it a point to depict the changes that occur in the South during post-Civil war era and uses symbols to do so.