It is a fact that Emily Grierson does happen to be one of the most enigmatic and talked about characters in English literature. To facilitate a pragmatic insight into Emily’s character, it is imperative that the story is analyzed in context of social and cultural influences attendant on it (Curry 394). Faulkner places Emily in a post Civil War Southern setting, where she is subject to obstinate, yet gradually decaying patriarchal norms and values. Thereby, the quintessential theme in A Rose for Emily is that an insensitive suppression of Emily’s basic human need for love by dominant patriarchal influences, eventual makes her seek companionship and a sense of belonging, by resorting to dreadful and extreme actions (Inge 49).
The social setting amidst which the story A Rose for Emily unravels is one marked by transition and change. The conflict in A Rose for Emily is the one between the past and the present. Emily grew up in an age and era when a woman’s identity used to be defined in correlation to her immediate male family members. In such a scenario, Faulkner constructs the character of Emily to be that of a person who happens to be a passive instrument of the dominant male influences in her life (Fetterley 42). The readers are told that Emily’s father happened to be a stern man, who turned down the men interested in her. Consequently, when Emily’s father dies, the town harbours a sentiment of extreme pity for Emily, simply because she lacked a male guardian.
In the subsequent passages, the readers come to know as to how the townspeople exercise an active interference in Emily’s personal life, taking her to be weak and helpless. Emily is frowned upon by women in the town, because she mingles with a working class northerner. The townspeople driven by their prudish patriarchal mentality, simply fail to recognize her very basic human need for love and companionship. Moreover, even those men, whom she voluntarily acknowledged to be the arbiters of her destiny, which is her father and Homer Barron, treat her in a very harsh and callous manner.
Thereby, Emily is perceived by the townspeople to be a “fallen monument”, who has succumbed to her fate by resorting to a life of withdrawal and seclusion (Roberts 9). They are willing to extend charity to her by abrogating her taxes. They are willing to entertain the possibility that she may commit suicide after being abandoned by her suitor. In fact, considering the reality that she belonged to a family that exercised much influence and power in the past, they feel even more delighted to dole out pity to the one who has fallen on bad days. They never entertain an iota of doubt that Emily, who discernibly comes out as being a proud bearer of Southern “noblesse oblige”, may dare to seek meaning and affection in a very unexpected and unconventional manner. Irrespective of the intermittent clues ensuing from Emily’s reclusive existence, like the last time they saw “the Negro man admit him (Barron) at the Kitchen door (Faulkner 1)” or when so abominable a stench emanated from Emily’s lodging, they never doubt Emily’s commitment to a life of passive feminine resignation and surrender. Because of this or say irrespective of this, Emily does manage to find meaning and love in her life, in a way that may be deemed to be sick and repulsive.
Things began to change “when the next generation, with its more modern ideas (Faulkner 1)”, refuses to allow the charity and privileges conferred on Emily by its predecessors. This brings out the conflict of ideas in the narrative. On the one side there are “the very old men—some in their brushed Confederate uniforms (Faulkner 10)” who in a way deify Emile for her proud resignation. On the other side are the young community leaders, who consider her ways to be utterly strange and unacceptable. It is only when they eventually find the carcass of Barron in her bedroom that both are left dumbstruck and shocked. Emily, who in her life appeared so resigned and lost, does finally manage to have a last laugh at the society that sacrificed her very human need for love at the altar of patriarchal domination.
Thereby, A Rose for Emily does vividly illustrate as to how suppression of basic human aspirations of a women by patriarchal hegemony, makes her resort to dreadful and disturbing acts, so as to quench her thirst for love and companionship. Moreover, such dreadful actions of Emily may not satisfy moral or ethical dictates. However, the do make sense, when one considers her highly marginalized and hopeless situation.
Curry, Renee R. “Gender and Authorial Limitation in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily’’.
The Mississippi Quarterly 47.3 (1994): 391-402. Print.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily’. Archive Internet.com. 2001. Web. 15 December 2014.
Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction.
Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press, 1978. Print.
Inge, M Thomas. A Rose for Emily. Columbus, OH: Charles E Merrill Publishing Company,1970. Print.
Roberts, James L. Faulkner’s Short Stories. New York: Hungry Minds, 1997. Print.