Interpretations of William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

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Interpretations of William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily


William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" has been interpreted in many different ways. Most of these rely solely on hints found within the story. I believe that his life can also help one analyze this story. By knowing that Faulkner's strongest influence was his independent mother, one can guess that Miss Emily Grierson's character was based partly on Maud Falkner.

William Cuthbert Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi on September 25, 1897. His family moved to Oxford, Mississippi when Faulkner was five years old (Larinde). His parents were Murry and Maud Falkner (Zane 2). Faulkner added the "u" to his last name on his Royal Air Force application for unknown reasons (5).

Faulkner's great-grandfather, Colonel William C. Falkner had moved from Tennessee to the Mississippi Delta in 1841. The Colonel was a Civil War hero, plantation owner, railroad builder, and even a writer (Larinde). Faulkner's grandfather and father were both respected, though not wealthy. They were also both alcoholics.

Faulkner and his father never had a very good relationship. He and his mother, though, were very close. Maud gave him his love of art and literature. She influenced Faulkner more than anyone else with her strong independence (Zane 3-4). She may have been the inspiration for the strong, independent character, Emily Grierson.

"William Faulkner was a quiet but mischievous child, polite and rude, loving and withdrawn" (4). He did well in grade school, but began showing signs of truancy during adolescence. Faulkner dropped out of high school in eleventh grade.

In 1918, Faulkner attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but was turned down. He then applied to the Royal Air Force where he adds the "u" to his last name. He was soon discharged and returned to Oxford, Mississippi. Here he attended the university for two year.

"In the decade that followed, Faulkner donned a host of other identities, alternately and aristocrat, a bohemian, or a derelict" (Zane 5). Faulkner established himself as a major novelist in 1929 with the book The Sound and the Fury (Larinde). He wrote twenty novels and many short stories (Zane 1). His greatest achievements were the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, the National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prizes. All of these awards came after he was fifty (7).

Although Faulkner lived in Canada, New Orleans, New York, Hollywood, and Virginia, most of his life was spent in his native Mississippi (Faulkner 177).

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"In his works William Faulkner used the American South as a microcosm for the universal theme of time" (Larinde). Almost all of his stories are set in the Deep South. Some critics describe Faulkner as "the quintessential Southern writer with his greatest works centered in this region" (Zane 1). Many of his stories' central themes seem to be based on themes that the South has struggled with for decades. These are race, gender, repression, myth, and heroism (2).

William Faulkner struggled with financial problems and alcoholism like his father and grandfather ("William Faulkner"). He died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962 and is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery.

William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" is an intriguing story of a lady who gets away with murder in the South around the turn of the century. There are many different interpretations regarding the meaning of this story. These range from Ray West's theory of Emily Grierson's attempt to stop time to Jack Scherting's suggestion that she suffers from an Oedipal complex (Blythe 192).

In my analysis of Faulkner's story, I will give several different interpretations written by different writers. Then I will explain which one I agree with the most and why.

Celia Rodriguez believes that in "A Rose for Emily" the past is contrasted with the present era. The past is seen in Miss Emily, Colonel Sartoris, the old Negro servant, and the Board of Alderman. Emily's suitor, the Yankee Homer Barron, the new Board of Alderman, and "the next generation with its more modern ideas" (Faulkner 178) represent the present (1).

Emily lived completely in the past. She told the new Board of Alderman that Colonel Sartoris had explained to her that she had no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris, however, had been dead for at least ten years. When Homer Barron tried to escape from her world into the new world, Emily murdered him to keep him in the past with her (2).

Cleanth Brooks believes that Miss Emily's actions are the result of her strong independence. She refuses to be criticized by the town when she gallivants around with Homer Barron. She refuses to be left by Barron, so she murders him. She refuses to pay taxes because the long dead Colonel Sartoris told her she was not obligated to (191).

Brook's admires Emily because she refused to conform to public opinion in a time when women were demanded to. Explains that the moral of the story is a warning against pride: "heroic isolation pushed too far ends in homicidal madness" (191).

Hal Blythe provides a surprising motive for why Miss Emily Grierson murdered Homer Barron. He believes that Emily discovered that Barron was a homosexual. There are several clues within the story that could possibly lead a reader to this conclusion. The narrator tells us that Barron "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 181). She murdered him to "save face" (192).

Blythe believes that Emily is humiliated when she discovers that Barron has simply used her to keep the community from discovering his true homosexual nature. Miss Emily openly buys men's clothes, combs, and even a nightshirt. Then after she kills him, she positions his body to appear to be embracing a lover. Emily does these things to conceal the real tendencies of her beau from the town. Blythe states, "Once again Faulkner has used sexual deviation to indicate the decay of an old South tradition" (193).

Judith Fetterley's theory is the last analysis that I will explain. Hers is also the one that I happen to agree with the most. Fetterley believes that within her patriarchal society, Emily suffers the most injury from being forced into the position of a "lady". Emily, however, uses this stereotype to gain power over those who place her in this role (195). I believe that Faulkner used his mother's strong and independent attitude as the basis for Emily Grierson. Emily's power over the town is proven by the fact that Emily is not only exempt from paying taxes in Jefferson, but she gets away with murder.

The new Board of Alderman visit Emily's house to demand that she begin paying her taxes. She informs them that Colonel Sartoris explained to her that she was not required to pay taxes. She tells them to go ask him if they do not believe her. The aldermen know that Sartoris has been dead for at least ten years, but they cannot say this to Miss Emily because they believe that because she is a lady, she is not capable of either reason or logic. She then demands that they leave. The men do this rather than acting in a way that is considered unbecoming of a gentlemen. Emily gets away without having to pay taxes simply because she plays up her role as a "lady" (Fetterley 195).

Emily buys arsenic without anyone ever thinking that her intentions might possibly be homicidal. The women instantly assume that Emily will use it to commit suicide because her suitor, Homer Barron, has abandoned her. When she continues to live, no one gives a second thought as to what the poison was really for. Even when a terrible stench begins emanating from within Emily's house, no one gets suspicious. Judge Stevens refuses to let anyone say anything to her because it just would not be right to accuse a "lady" of stinking.

When madness is thought to have befallen Emily, no one is suspicious because that is a typical result of bereavement in ladies. All of these things allow Emily Grierson to murder Homer Barron with impunity (196).

Judith Fetterley's analysis seems the most viable to me. However, I enjoy thinking that Miss Emily Grierson was cunning enough to use the stereotype of a lady that the men and women in Jefferson forced her into against them.

Works Cited

· Blythe, Hal. "Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily.'" Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 191-193.

· Brooks, Cleanth. "On 'A Rose for Emily'". Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 190-191.

· Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 177-183.

· Fetterley, Judith. "A Rose for 'A Rose for Emily.'" Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 193-196.

· Larinde, Toyin. "Biography of William Faulkner." The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project at Starkville High School. 11 Feb. 2000 Zane, J. Peder. "William Faulkner's literary legacy." 21 Sept. 1997. The News & Observer. 11 Feb. 2000 p1-8.


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