A Rose For Emily The Factors that Form the Character Emily Grierson The characters in a work of literature are not only formed by their characteristics, but also by the story. There are many factors in a story which shape the characters. These may include the setting, mood, and theme. In William Faulkners A Rose for Emily, the conflict between past and present, chronological order and generations, her physical appearance and the grotesque mood affect the way the reader views Emily Grierson. In the small town of Jefferson, somewhere in the south, lived a woman named Miss Emily.
After her father died, the Colonel pardoned her taxes. This caused conflict as she got older since there was no written record of this information. During the two years after her fathers death the only person that left the house was a Negro man that went to get her groceries and tended to the house. As time passed, Miss Emilys neighbors began to notice a foul smell coming from her house. The judge refused to do anything about it, so men of the town would deposit lime around her house late at night.
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The smell went away after a few weeks. The town felt sorry for Miss Emily since she was still single at the age of thirty. When the women of the town called Miss Emily to offer condolences after her fathers death, Miss Emily told them her father was not dead. She said this for three days until she gave in and buried him. During the summer after her father died, a construction company began to pave sidewalks.
She became close with one of the workers names Homer Barron. Miss Emily went to the drug store for poison. The people of the town thought she was going to kill herself with it. At this time Miss Emily bought a mans toilet set in silver, a new outfit, and a nightshirt. Now the town knew they got married.
When the people saw Miss Emily again she was very old. Soon after that she died in one of the downstairs rooms at the age of seventy-four. After a few days had passed, the townspeople explored her house. In one room was a mans toilet set, and his outfit. They found the man lying in bed.
Underneath his nightshirt he was rotted. Next to him was a pillow with an indent from another persons head. On the pillow was a strand of gray hair. A characters physical appearance affects the readers feelings. When Emily Grierson, the main character, is introduced in the story she is pronounced dead.
Immediately the reader feels remorse for her. However, this sorrowful view of Miss Emily soon changes. Her house is described as an eyesore among eyesores (Faulkner 36). It was deteriorating, much like the way Miss Emily does in the story. The reader first knows of what she looks like when she has an encounter with members of the community.
The people of the community describe her as being: a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another.. (Faulkner 37-38) She seems to have a scary appearance that is not pleasing to look at. The next time she is seen 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 (Faulkner 40). She now has a demeanor that is more welcoming.
The last time Miss Emily is described she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray (Faulkner 44). Her hair was not an ordinary gray. It was pepper-and-salt iron-gray (Faulkner 44). The reader now pictures Miss Emily as being very old. Faulkner uses the past and present to shape the character of Miss Emily. The story line jumps back and forth from the past to the present. Critic Ray West explains the difference between the two time periods: the past [is] represented in Emily herself, in Colonel Sartoris, in the old Negro servant, and the Board of Aldermanthe present is depicted in the new Board of Alderman, in Homer Barronand in what is called the next generation with its more modern ideas.
(West 148) The people who lived in each period of time depict that interval of time. Both groups were born into different lifestyles; therefore, it would be assumed that they have a different way of looking at the same situation. Although the story takes place in the present, Emily continued to live in the past (150). She did not give up the customs she grew up with to alter her lifestyle to the customs of the present. Her life, which dwelled in the past, was a world of unreality to the people of the present (149).
No one understood her. To the people of Jackson she was an odd old lady. One of the main conflicts in the story is the pragmatic present against the set mores of the past (150). Miss Emily had no intentions of changing her ways to please the people of the present. In the story, there was a generation that corresponded with each time period.
In Miss Emilys generation she had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town (Faulkner 37). She was well respected and liked in the community. The conflict developed when the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen (37). They did not understand the ways of Miss Emily and therefore they disapproved of it. As the story progressed the newer generation became the backbone and the spirit of the town (44).
This left Miss Emily and her generation in the dark. Along with the difference between the generations there is the difference between the attitude of Judge Stevens (who is over eighty years old) and the attitude of the young man who comes to him about the smell at Emilys place (West 149). The difference in age causes the conflict. Miss Emilys reputation in the town had vanished with the past. Another conflict of the story is the different views of the North and the South. Miss Emily is said to be postwar South (Magil 850). She grew up in the generation that followed the war.
Homer represents the north as a Yankee (West 149). On the other hand, Emily is a monument of Southern gentility (149). In this example, Faulkner is describing the relationship between the Southerner and his past, the Southerner of the present and the Yankee from the North (149). Each of these pairs has their own views and beliefs that cause conflict in the story. One of the main themes of the story is that the postbellum South learns to ignore the unsavory elements of its past (Magil 851).
The past is ignored in the story, and unfortunately Emily is not a part of it. The most confusing part of the story is the way in which Faulkner arranges the chronological order. The main problem with establishing a chronology for Miss Emily is due to the fact that the beginning of the story is told in reverse and all of the events are based upon her age and not specific dates (Moore 196). West suggests two ways of viewing the time. One of them is the world of the present, viewing time as a mechanical progression in which the past is a diminishing road never to be encountered again (150).
The other view is the world of tradition, viewing the past as a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches (150). The purpose of the past is to be remembered and not relived. Faulkner begins the story by saying that the whole town went to the funeral (36). This indicates that throughout the story there were going to be flashbacks. He then inserts a date that the reader can use as a reference for the time period in which the story takes place. The event was when Colonel Sartoris remitted her taxes (Faulkner 37).
The newer generation of the story is now introduced into the story. This indicates that some amount of time has passed. The next allusion to time is when the deputation knocked on her door to talk to her about her tax (37). Faulkner then flashes back to the time of her fathers death. Faulkner then describes the smell that was mentioned previously in the story. Since the smell was detected after the death of Homer, the reader can assume that the smell was due to his dead body.
The story then changes to the present when she is described as a young girl. This is the same time when she meets Homer Barron. She then becomes old and remains in her house until her death. Faulkner creates a problem in the story when he assigned a different date to the remission of Miss Emilys taxes and a specific date to her fathers death (Moore 198). Critic Gene Moore devises a solution to the chronological problem by fixing the date of Emilys fathers death (195). This solution will help solve all the problems of time. There is a grotesque mood in the story that casts a black cloud over Miss Emily. Emily and her father supposedly had some sort of relationship that gave off an incestuous image (Magil 851).
Before the death of her father, she must have had a sexual relationship with him. The way in which Emily preserved the ones she loved is extremely absurd. When her father died, she denied that her father was dead for three days (Faulkner 40). She had kept the body and refused to give it up until she was forced to by law (40). Emily was so afraid that she would lose Homer that she poisoned him and left him in her bed (46).
When the people of the town found him they [looked] down at the profound and fleshless grinwhat was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of a nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay (46). The fact that his body had totally disintegrated meant that he had been dead for a long time. On a pillow along side Homers body the people of the town found a strand of Emilys hair (46). This indicates that Emily had been laying by his side. Emilys attachment to the ones she loved is extremely morbid.
There are many factors in the story that characterize Miss Emily. She grew up with the customs of the south. Since there was not a motherly figure mentioned in the story it is assumed that she did not have one for most of her life. She also lost her father at a young age. Living alone with no parents or close relatives nearby must have been hard for her. When her father passed away her intentions were not to keep a dead body in her house, but to keep her father in her life.
Miss Emily was not a morbid person. But, to the townspeople who did not understand her life, she was. Although the reader may view Emily in a negative way, Faulkners overall design leads [the readers] judgement to work greatly in Emilys favor, highlighting the virtues of courage, honor, and endurance in her life story (Strandberg, 1001). English Essays.