William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily' is one of the popular and most analyzed short stories not only in America but also in the entire world. It’s a story that fits in historical times of the civil war, about the ideological differences between the North and the South that caused the war. It illustrates this content through a story about the main character's life, Emily Grierson, and her surrounding society. William’s use of literary techniques enables him to narrate all these historical influences and Emily's story into a brief story that holds so much depth to it. The story is anchored on various themes and arguments which seek to bring out the significance of the American civil war in American society. One of the themes concerns the past, present, and future behavior and way of life of the people of the South. It includes Emily’s resistance to change, an action that leads to her isolation from the rest of society.
Historically, the customs of the South from which Emily hails are incredibly distinct though very rich and unique. The South in those years had created for itself an identity that was very different from any other area of America. Before the occurrence of the civil war, the South was predominantly an agricultural area inhabited by large acres of plantations and farms (Daniel, 2016). The wealthy southern whites had over the years been using Black slaves as sources of labor to maximize their farm outputs as a way to lower their operating costs. As a result, there was a development of a very rigid social hierarchy within the region. The white farmers with their large tracts of land were the aristocrats. The middle class was the usual commoner's whereas the blacks were merely workers and could be auctioned off thus depicting the imagery of the property.
However, the other region to the north was the total opposite of this. The economy there was mostly comprised of manufacturing industries. As a result, very minimal labor was required thus no need for blacks (Boggs, 2016). It brought about ideological differences with the conservative south. Differences that would, later on, grow to higher heights with the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president of the United States of America in 1861, since he came from the North. As a result, the civil war occurred leading to the Southern states forming a coalition termed the Confederates, to fight the North and have their ideologies recognized throughout the American society (Crofts, 2014). The south, however, lost to the North although their customs and ideas had already sunk into their heads, thus impacting their ways of life. It’s these ideologies that Faulkner is bringing to light via Emily’s story for a better understanding especially to readers who might not have come across such history. Thus, via the author's narration of Emily's story, we get various depictions of the influence of the American civil war.
Firstly, traditions affect the rate of change and the will of the people to change. In the South, where Emily hails from, fought but eventually lost the ideals which they believed into the moderate Northerners. However, as in Emily’s case, their people still maintain their tradition in the face of widespread radical change within the American society. For example, in one scene there exists the detail of Emily’s father’s death. Emily creates a situation where she is adamant for her not to leave his side despite him breathing his last. It reaches a point where the townspeople intervene with the goal of wanting to take him away but she still is unwilling (Faulkner, 258). When asked to explain her refusal, she claims she is clinging to him for he had robbed her of her childhood. She was referring to his past behaviors in keeping her confined within their homestead and always chasing away any of her suitors. Such actions paint the picture of someone who is not ready to get rid of her past and tormented way of life and face new changes. Such attitude not only affects her but her entire surrounding southern society due to their inability to relinquish their pre-war ideals. Thus the holding of Emily to her dead father can be mirrored upon a similar relationship like that of the town people in the south and their past traditions despite their civil war loss.
Another instance that shows the influence of tradition on the civil war in the story is Emily’s existence in a world of her own making that is like a timeless vacuum. For example, in one scene, upon the arrival of a modern mail service within their community, Emily is among the first to refuse to have metallic sticker numbers on their house for easier delivery and identification. She also doesn't conform to the new garages and cotton gins that had been replacing the old existing grand homes. Moreover, she refuses to follow the law when it comes to taxes since they had just been introduced by the federal government and, to make it worse, the existing local authorities exempt her from the task merely because of her deceased father’s social status. According to the story, the town's authority' grant her power not to abide by the tax initiatives since they need her and much more to preserve the values and cultures of the old south (Faulkner, 254). Such acts show that for the time is relative and that their past will ever be present and will continue being idolized even in the future.
On the second note, there is the existence of mental confinements in relation to the American civil war. In one scene, Emily falls in love with a northerner (Johnson, 2018). The natural affection towards him escalates over time and as days go by it’s clear in her mind that she does love him. However, two challenges exist firstly he is a northerner, and secondly, he is a day laborer. The mentality of her surrounding society towards the existence of such a relationship due to his place of origin and social status would be very negative. As a result, Emily is forced, despite her affections, to live a life of solitude and unhappiness to avoid the society from judging her. This is because the town has set standards for persons of various social classes. For example, for someone of a high class like Emily interacting with a low-life like her lover would emanate into a big embarrassment not only to her but also to her family.
Thus the town is mentally designed in a manner that it expects Emily and other persons to behave. Homer, her lover, being a northerner is a big blow to the southerners if he married Emily. In their minds, it would appear like this since they had already lost the war to the North. It could have even been a bigger humiliation since he had already let his tongue lose to his friends that he was not interested in marrying her (Faulkner, 250). Such mental confinements not only affected the society but also Emily personally. She couldn’t get into terms that she would be the laughing stock of her society due to her relationship with Homer thus pushing herself into buying poison and killing him with it. Despite the smell that emanated from the house the authorities never gave it much of a concern due to the social blanket she was classed in. in fact, they even aided in covering it up indirectly when the city council sent men at night to sprinkle lime around the house to get rid of the foul smell (Faulkner, 257). It was later upon her death that they realized that she killed him upon finding Homer’s dead corpse in her closet. Thus, all these southerners’ thoughts are mental confinements whose sole goals are the maintenance of outdated beliefs that can push one to dangerous limits like Emily's case.
In conclusion, William Faulkner writes the story to tell of the South’s beliefs and way of life then and in their past. A rose for Emily becomes a comparison between the past, present, and what should be good in the future. In my view, his main goal is to teach or show the dangers of living in the past and why it's important to adapt to newer means.
Boggs, Colleen Glenney, ed. Teaching the Literature of the American Civil War. Modern Language Association of America, 2016.
Crofts, Daniel W. Reluctant Confederates: "Upper South Unionists in the secession crisis." UNC Press Books, 2014.
Daniel, Joshua. "Moral injury and recovery in the shadow of the American Civil War: Roycean insights and womanist corrections." American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 37.2 (2016): 151-168
Johnson, Helen, et al. "A rose by any other name? Developing a method of collaborative poetics."Qualitative Research in Psychology just-accepted (2018).
Long, R. E. N. "A New Study on the Narrator in a Rose for Emily." Journal of Qiqihar University Philosophy & Social Science Edition) 4 (2015)
William Faulkners, A Rose for Emily
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