In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the author manipulates time by beginning at the end. He painstakingly provides details of Miss Emily’s life through the eyes of a narrator, who appears to be the town’s collective voice. The story is told in a flashback fashion, starting at the end of Miss Emily’s life and slowly unraveling her life’s history. Faulkner uses flashbacks to stretch and bend time to inspire the reader to feel sympathy for the character of Emily Grierson as she experiences disappointment, grief, and finally desperation.
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Emily was born into a wealthy family, raised by her father, in a grand house somewhere in the Deep South. Their house was one of several in an aristocratic neighborhood. Picture it as a typical southern mansion, with large windows, tall spires, and many fine details. Her father was a strict man, as most men were back in those days, and was adept at scaring off any suitors that Miss Emily might have encountered. Since her mother is not mentioned, this could explain why her father was much stricter than necessary protecting his only daughter’s honor. The strictness of her upbringing left little room for any true joy in her life. She never married or had children and become the typical “spinster” lady in the old, spooky house. The townspeople were leery of Emily, as she carried herself in a dignified manner as if she were
better than them. Although she came across as superior to the townspeople, it comes as a surprise that she was very simple and common.
“When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her: and in a way, people were glad” (Faulkner, 732). This proved to the people that she was just like them, common townspeople, and it even fueled their pity. Feeling sorry for her was their justification for the way they treated her and their superiority over her actions. The death of her father was yet another loss in her relatively young life. The numerous suitors that her father had turned away were also considered by Emily as a loss, a “what if” if you will. Grief is accepted in many different ways, denial is often common. Imagine how alone Emily felt? She was the last Grierson in her family and had no one to grow old with. 30 years old and no husband? The spinster was the word that described her. She fell ill after her father passed away and seemingly overnight changed. “her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows—sort of tragic and serene” (733). Almost untouchable the townspeople still put Emily on a pedestal but not out of admiration. The overall feeling that she had slowly begun to lose her facilities was felt by all the townspeople as she often displayed questionable behaviors to include taking a “dark” man as a suitor. This was unheard of in the early 19th century! Emily, for the first time in her life, had no one to answer to, no father to drive away from her companion. Feeling free for the first time in her life, was truly life-changing.
Life-changing meant that Miss Emily was making her own decisions but remember she was fairly naïve in life experiences. Trusting perhaps that the gentleman Homer Baron was indeed a gentleman was one of her biggest mistakes. How upset, lonely, and betrayed Miss
Emily must have felt when Mr. Baron broke off their “relationship”! Desperation surely must have blinded her morals. Yet again a man was leaving her! At this point, Emily becomes even more reclusive and odd to the townspeople. She closed herself off to everyone and when indeed she did appear, she had grown fat and old, her hair turned “an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray” (735). Many years passed until finally, Miss Emily Grierson died. As reclusive as she had been the townspeople were still intrigued by the infamous Miss Emily. She remained a topic of conversation all of those years as the unknown is surely more interesting than the boring humdrum of everyday life.
The captivating ending of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” completely satisfies the townspeople’s suspicions and curiosities. Always mistrustful of the unknown, the townspeople felt at last vindicated upon the discovery of the mummified remains of Mr. Homer Baron! In a room where time had stood still, Miss Emily’s love lay frozen time. She had preserved all that was dear to her, this man would never leave her like those before him. Miss Emily would not be deserted again. This room lay untouched for over 40 years as a tribute to her true love, love that would not be denied or cast aside.
William Faulkner tells this story backward, chronologically. This method slowly describes Emily Grierson at different times of her life. Pity is felt for her both by the townspeople and the reader. Emily loses all the men in her life for different reasons and her grief at these losses overwhelms her and completely clouds her morals. Her actions are shocking to the townspeople but by this point, in time they have felt pity and sadness for Miss Emily’s life and love lost.
- Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Kelly J. Mays, ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 730-736. Print.
- Volpe, Edmond Loris. “A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner: The Short Stories.” 1st Ed. New York: Syracuse, 2004. Print. 11 Nov. 2016.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Kelly J. Mays, ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 730-736. Print.
This is the primary source for Essay 2 (Faulkner).
Vartany, Edwin. “Time’s Mathematical Progression in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily.” The Explicator. Vol. 69, No. 4, 189–192, 2011. Web. 11 Nov 2016.
This article discusses Faulkner’s usage of time and the difference between “mathematical progression of time” and “mechanical progression of time”. It is an interesting analysis that compares the old timer’s version of time with the younger generation of time. I used this article to emphasize Faulkner’s flashback usage of time in the story to encourage empathy for Emily. This article is academically valid as it was found in a peer-reviewed journal and on a college-sponsored database.
Writing Process Summation
Why did you choose this story?
I choose “A Rose for Emily” because I was intrigued by the title, although the symbology of the rose can be interpreted in many different ways.
How did you arrive at your understanding and assertion about the poem?
I re-read it several times and also read all of the critical analysis in our textbook. It was very interesting to read all of the different “takes” on this poem.
What were the points you made in this essay?
I feel like I wanted to convey that Emily was misunderstood and the events in her life were responsible for her actions and feelings. All of these feelings; disappointment, grief, and desperation are not valid reasons for murdering someone but it happens.
How did you revise this?
I submitted my rough draft to the online tutoring service, SmartThinking for thesis statement help. I also request help from the instructor. I have read the story many times trying to not summarize it in my essay but continue to struggle with the difference between analyzing and summarizing.
What do you want your reader to see from your essay?
Not that I would ever justify murder, however, I want my reader to understand Emily, and why she killed Homer Baron. Much of her life was filled with loss and disappoint which can have a profound effect on people.