The Power of Death in A Rose for Emily
A Rose for Emily is a story written by William Faulkner. The setting of the story was based in the fictional city of Jefferson. The story majorly focuses on the life and struggles of Miss Emily, a woman portrayed as a lonely, poor and selfish. Throughout the story, Faulkner illustrates how Emily lives in denial and fails to comprehend and accept the idea of death. Through the characters, themes, setting and style, the author successfully brings out the undeniable power death has in human life and society. Although other themes are evident throughout the story, they only help to support the central theme of death. Death is irresistibly powerful and facilitates changes in life and society. This is best captured by the description of Emily who gave in to death slowly; “She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water ” (Faulkner, 96).
From the beginning of the story, the author introduces readers to the concept of death when the author describes Emily’s funeral. Her death enabled the people of the town to see her house for which no one “had seen in at least ten years” (Faulkner, 95). Although Emily had lived a private and mean life which prevented people from visiting her, death helps to change this. It gave the people of her town an opportunity to see her and the house. For instance, when alive, she refused to have the metallic numbers fixed at her house: “She would not listen to them” (Faulkner, 100). In addition, although she had lived much of her life in isolation, death had helped the people of the town to interact with her. Unlike when she was alive, death permitted the people to visit one of their community members. She was out of touch with reality and chose to live a life that prevented her from engaging with the changing outside world. However, as the author shows, death plays an important role in breaking this barrier. Clearly, one can see that death is not only a powerful thing, but one that causes changes in life and the society.
The time period the story was written further helps highlight the power of death. Since the story was written after the civil war, the author used the idea of death to highlight how the South had greatly been changed and affected by the war. The South had been devastated by the war, and their old economy based on the agriculture and slave labor was diminishing. The figure of Emily in this story can be seen to represent the South. When she was alive, Emily is described as being “a tradition, a duty, and a care” (Faulkner, 95). Although she was once a charming and respectable woman, death had brought her down, just like the civil war had changed the South. The old was paving way for a new order.
The author also uses death to show how it causes people to change and adopt new ways of doing things. Death is used to symbolize an irresistible force that makes people change the prevailing social order and adopt new ways. Emily’s defiance of death is best illustrated when her father died. She chose not to accept the idea that her father was dead. When the ladies decided to call at the house after the father’s death, Emily showed no “trace of grief” and “she told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner, 96). Here, Emily decided to hold onto her father’s body and behaved as if nothing had happened. However, she eventually had to give the body for burial. Similarly, when she killed Homer, she kept her body or a while but later had to release it for burial. Clearly, just like people hold onto traditions, they are at some point forced to give in to the new order.
The story further brings out the sharp contrast between the living and the dead. It shows that life and death cannot be fused. Throughout the story, the author highlights the idea that there is a great difference between the living and the dead. For example, when Emily killed Homer, she kept his lifeless body around her. Unfortunately, she realized that Homer’s lifeless body rendered him distant from her. In the story, the author says that for Homer, “the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him” (Faulkner, 101). It is thus evident that Emily attempted to bring life and death together. She was not successful in doing so, and she finally realized that death and life do not coexist. Death creates a big divide between the living and those who were once alive. This illustration shows that death is powerful and that death and life are apart.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the story A Rose for Emily highlights the inevitability and the power of death. Through death, the author was able to advance other themes such as change versus tradition, isolation and compassion. In the story, death is portrayed as a powerful thing that no one can resist, and through death, many changes take place in the society.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 8th ed. New York: Bedford, 2008. 95-101.