The paper deals with the novel "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. It is claimed that differences between the Southern and Northern way of life after the civil war are reflected in the main characters of the novel. The author showed himself in this writing as a master of narration, representation and portrayal. “A Rose for Emily” is considered to be a story the sense of which is hidden, thus it represents a perfect material for analysis and is widely discussed by different scientists. A conservative nature of Emily is opposed to an aspired and liberated nature of Homer Barron. The problems of love and sexuality are opposed to the rules of the patriarchal and conservative society.
Key words: patriarchal society, madness, mental capacity, isolation, freedom.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a short story with a hidden sense. That makes it very interesting for close and deep analysis. A lot of interpretations are widely known concerning the meaning of the story, but it remains controversial. Emily Grierson murdered Homer Barron and this deed split her world in two: the past and the present. It is interesting that characterization in the story “A Rose for Emily” leads to the ideas on The New South (if to refer to the image of Emily), which is shown as an independent and strong fighter for his rights.
Historical perspective and the re-shape of society
"A Rose for Emily" should be considered in the historical perspective. The main characters of the novel are struggling with their mentalities in order to reshape them in accordance with the social changes, which occurred after the civil war in America. The novel reminds us a circle of gossips and the main character, Ms Emily is absorbed in it. This is awful for her and she suffers from that greatly. The main heroin is from a noble family of the small community and at her local level she had a quite another life in comparison with that which was coming up to her.
An intriguing pitfall of this story can be found when discussing Homer Barron, who “liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club-that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner). Maybe, when Emily murdered him, she wanted to get rid of a spoiled part of her close person. As far as we can see, at this point not only her independence, but also her idealistic nature is revealed. Emily’s idealistic nature can be seen in a way she organized a murder, when she put man’s suit carefully on the chair. Thus she created male image next to the dead body of Homer Barron and underlined that the real ‘murderer’ was his affection for men and not the owner of “a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner).
When Homer who “liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club-that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner), disappeared, it was a great surprise for Emily. She was a gentle woman and people from a small town and her small community did not bother her. There is a detached interest of people from the small town in Emily. Someone spies on her, but no one interferes in her personal life. Her personal business stays aside from the community and maybe it is the most negative feature of estrangement, which is experienced in such a way by the other members of the community.
Rigid values of the South and a perverted attitude to the values of the Northern Americans are proven by a too serious interpretation of the values to Ms Emily by her father. He was too critical to her potential suitors, because they were not too good for her. This woman did not get married for life because of her father’s excessive care about her. Moreover, this woman experienced a constant pressure and she went mad in the result of the Southern norms of behavior for the people from the aristocratic societies. In the beginning of the novel it is rather dubious to claim that a woman has a great problem with her mentality and mind. She lives in her own world (Miller).
Emily lived in her past, she didn’t want to loose those precious bonds and in order to preserve even the part of the past for her, her lover, Homer Barron; thus she murdered him. Moreover, a motif of independence and arrogance can bee also seen in this story. Emily disdains gossips in town about her personal (relationships with Homer Barron) and social life (refusal to pay taxes). Therefore, the murder is a sign of protest and independence manifestation. Independence of this woman is seen in description of her ‘iron-grey’ hair. She was ‘iron’ herself, implacable, even merciless, and strong; she was above all superstitions and lived her own life
Society conflicts and sexuality
There are numerous conflicts in the Southern and Northern societies, such as opposing a woman to the society. There is a too intense criticism against her being like an Old Maid or an isolated woman. It is better to get married to someone. Her bedroom secrets occur as the well-known personal features of Emily to the rest of the society. This woman suffers from the isolation versus community. She is opposed to the rest members of the society (Maldonado-Torres).
There is a need to clarify the community’s expectations and real feelings and behavior of Emily. The narrator outlines at her funerals that she was ‘‘a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town’’ (Faulkner 1991, p. 32). In reality, we know that this woman had almost no contacts with other members of the society. She was an isolated and a detached woman. She had relations with Homer Barron, went shopping for arsenic and men’s clothing, and was educating young women in the China-painting lessons (Faulkner, 1991).
A lot of interpretations are widely known concerning the meaning of the story “A Rose for Emily”. Along with the discussion of the hidden sense of the story, it is relevant to turn our attention to the devices the author used in order to intrigue his readers. Faulkner showed himself in this short story as a master of symbolism, narration and characterization. Independence of Emily is seen in description of her ‘iron-grey’ hair, this woman was unusually strong. “Rose” is the brightest symbol of the story: Emily is like rose: both of them exist in their own worlds while they are poured on. Generally, symbolism Faulkner reflected in the characters and embodied the Old South (Colonel Satoris, the old Negro servant) and the New South (Homer Barron and Emily). The author wants to remind us that the world is not strictly divided into “good” or “bad”, these two notions are very often mixed and positive and negative sides can be met in every person.
Another intriguing pitfall of this story can be found when discussing Homer Barron, who “liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club-that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner). Maybe, when Emily murdered him, she wanted to get rid of a spoiled part of her close person. As far as we can see, at this point not only her independence, but also her idealistic nature is revealed. Emily’s idealistic nature can be seen in a way she organized a murder, when she put man’s suit carefully on the chair. Thus she created male image next to the dead body of Homer Barron and underlined that the real ‘murderer’ was his affection for men and not the owner of “a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner, p. 450).
Emily lives in a constant turmoil and she often relies on her father’s great care from her childhood. She followed a patriarchal culture of the Southern world. She was hardly fighting against her mental problems and disabilities, lacking of a mental capacity and thus, she lived in her own world created by herself. The world of illusions absorbed her. She was a prisoner of her own inner considerations, feelings and emotions. The intrusion of Homer Barron is strictly opposed to Miss Emily. Faulkner-narrator allows his readers to assess the story from inside and leaves a space for discussion. The character of Emily is very interesting, deep and unusual. Actually, she was not only strong and independent, she was a woman with idealistic nature. This idealistic nature can be seen in a way she organized a murder, when she put man’s suit carefully on the chair (Ryan, p. 54). Characterization implied in this story leads to the ideas on The New South (if to refer to the image of Emily), which is shown as an independent and strong fighter for his rights. Generally, the author intended to show that in spite of the fact that Emily committed a murder, an awful sin, this was a preventive measure to protect her from social downward and assure her usual way of life by preserving it’s the most precious part for her.
Opposing relations of men and women in the modern society - counterargument
In their relations it is possible to analyze opposing relations between men and women. In the Southern culture the status of a woman is determined by a social status of her husband.A woman is just a source for gossips in the community. There is no such kind of stereotypes in the Northern society. They have a different system of values.
The Southern system of values determines this conflict in the following manner: "Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town..." (Faulkner 1991, p. 459). The death of her father is a symbolic start of a new life of Emily. Patriarchal values and principles are disappearing and her inner beliefs are being gradually changed. The author’s idea and position is clear: notwithstanding that Emily killed a person, this step was necessary for her as she wanted to save the most precious part of her past.
Notwithstanding that we oppose love and sexuality to patriarchal society, we can also disprove this argument. In the modern world where men and women seem equal these problems are still present. Women sexuality is still oppressed and further development of the society will show if this oppression can disappear one day.
The relations between Emily and Homer Barron symbolize controversial opposition between the South and the North. Moreover, the contemporaries may find many common features between Homer Barron and the representatives of the modern society. There are no obligations and there is no patriarchal background of the modern society, and Homer reflects the same tendencies of his behavior. Finally, South gets a victory, but it cannot exist without North and thus Emily dies as well. There is an evident shift in sociological and cultural background of the development of the American society, which occurred after the civil war. Nevertheless, William Faulkner managed to transfer this conflict between the South and the North on the example of relations between a man and a woman.