by Eva Milanovic
does the story imply about the relationship between past and present, illusion
and reality, permanence and change, death and life?
In “A Rose for
Emily”, Faulkner addresses several subjects and establishes relationships
between them such as juxtaposition, contrast, and convergence. Past and present,
illusion and reality, permanence and change, and death and life are the subjects
that will be discussed and through which links will be formed.
The past and the present come up in the story in two different ways.
First, Faulkner provides a graphic description of Miss Emily’s physique
towards the end of her life. She is described as a “small, fat woman”,
“bloated like a body submerged in motionless water”, and her eyes are like
“two pieces of coal” that are “lost in the fatty ridges of her face”
(484). He puts great emphasis on the fact that she is not thin. However, this
image is juxtaposed with the one from the past in which Faulkner refers to Emily
as being slender (485). Second, the author brings the past into the present
through Homer Barron, Emily’s so-called suitor. Although they were seeing each
other, she knew that they would never get married because of his preference for
men. She could not bear the thought of losing him; therefore, she killed him and
kept him close to her for forty years as if nothing had happened. It is her way
to cling to the past by making sure it is part of the present. In short, the two
relationships between past and present are first juxtaposed and then overlapped.
The author also likes to play with the idea of illusion and reality. He
begins by reporting a reality, such as the smell around her house, a putrid
smell that the neighbours complain about (485). Their solution is for the judge
to suggest that she have her home cleaned, to which he replies that it is not
the way to treat a lady. To avoid this reality, an illusion is created. In the
middle of the night, men are sent over to her house to sprinkle lime everywhere.
By doing so, the smell disappears after a while, giving the illusion that indeed
she had her house cleaned. Another example is the way she carries her head high
to give the impression that she is dignified (486). In reality, she is alone and
poor, which makes people pity her. Finally, Homer Barron’s disappearance was
an illusion: people simply thought he had left town (487). The truth is that she
had poisoned him, a fact that we learn only at the end of the story (489). In
this narrative, illusion and reality are sharply contrasted to emphasize the
difference between what is not real and what is.
Faulkner accentuates the fact that over time, things change such as
physiques and points of view, making a difference between permanence and change.
Emily’s house used to be white with cupolas, spires, and scrolled balconies
(483). Since it was a house located on the “most select street”, one could
think that it would always be that way; but with time, the house fell into decay.
Also, Colonel Sartoris made sure that Emily would never have to pay taxes
“into perpetuity” (483), thus laying stress on the idea of permanence.
However, people change and so do situations. After the death of the colonel, the
new mayor insisted that she pay her taxes. Furthermore, Faulkner establishes a
relationship between permanence and change through comparison. When Homer Barron
was alive, he was said to be big, implying that he was strong and perhaps
healthy (486). Forty years later, he is found in Emily’s house and his body
has rotted (489). In these three instances, everything seemed permanent when in
reality change was unavoidable.
Contrary to the other elements, death and life are not juxtaposed or
compared, but rather combined. Through Emily’s eyes, it is as if there was no
difference between the two as she lives in the face of death. She did not mourn
her father’s death because she was in denial for three days (485). He had to
be snatched from her to be buried in a proper way or else she would have
probably kept him in the house. The same parallel can be drawn between her and
Barron’s dead body. Even though he had been dead for so long, she kept him
close to her and acted as if he were alive, such as lying next to him in the bed
(489). Death and life converge towards one meaning: Emily is a mixture of both
worlds. She is alive, but lives among the dead.
This story is considered to be gothic because of its sinister atmosphere
and the strange events that lead to a mounting suspense. Among the combined
subjects which are past and present, illusion and reality, permanence and
change, and death and life, relationships are established. However, when each
subject is taken individually and analyzed, there is a recurring idea: death.
For this reason, it cannot be argued that this is not a gothic story as death is
one of its major components.
100. Ed. by
James H. Pickering, Prentice Hall, ISBN: 0-13-182587-9, 2004.