William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily
By Lori Lang | Submitted On March 9, 2021
The Opposing Sides of Change
William Faulkner, a long-time resident of Oxford, Mississippi, did not attend any literary school. His work, A Rose for Emily, explored the history and legend of the south while delving into the sensitive insight on the human character. It deals with how Emily, the main character, refused to accept change. In it, he captured the spirit of his time and conveyed the past, and the present as it relates to the rejection of change and the rejection of progress.
Set in the post civil war of the late 1800s and the early 1900s, A Rose for Emily presents the two opposing sides of change: the townspeople who accepted it and Emily who refused it. Her father influenced her attitude toward any transformations; while their house; the manservant, Tobe; Colonel Sartoris; and her lover, Homer, symbolized the past. Emily was raised very traditionally; her father was a very old-fashioned man who did not believe in the equality of men and women. Even in the changing world of equality, he taught Emily that a woman’s place is just in the background. Her adoration for him was made obvious by her keeping of his “crayon portrait,” and his influence on her is best portrayed at his death, a death that took her 3 days to recognize. On his death, Emily refused to accept that something has changed-her father is gone.
This refusal to accept change is also seen in her keeping of the manservant, Tobe. Even after all the transformations that the post-war had ushered, a war fought mainly to end slavery, Emily declined to give Tobe his freedom. She had kept him until the day she died: when “[s]he died…[t]he negro walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again.” Emily was set in her ways and nothing, not even the ambivalence of the people towards her, transformed that. She was pitied, disdained, scrutinized, and there were those who were glad when she had fallen: “she had become humanized,” they said. Emily did not budge: she remained the reclusive, mysterious, eccentric, who rejected change.
Change is a concept that Emily would not grasp. When the “next generation” of town leaders tried to make her pay her taxes, she clung to Colonel Sartori’s old agreement that her tax is remitted. Colonel Sartori’s death, like the other neighborhood changes, was rejected, and she was firm in reiterating that “[she] do[es] not have taxes in Jefferson.” She had dismissed them the way she had dismissed their fathers “thirty years before…” By not accepting her civic duties, and by rejecting fellowship, Emily preserved the past by denying the present.
Tradition and old ways are not the only things that Emily preserved. When a scandalous relationship started between her and Homer (the Yankee), she eliminated the feeling of abandonment she felt after her father’s death by murdering Homer. There, in that upstairs room, Homer’s remains lay-unchanged from the day she had put him there. There laid in the upstairs bedroom “[t]he body [that] had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him.” She had preserved his body, and the happy memories he shared with her in that rose-colored room upstairs in her home.
A personification of Emily, the Grierson home was a “[a] stubborn and coquettish decay.” Emily, just like her home, the once symbol of grandeur, of southern aristocracy, is the only one left of her kind in the neighborhood. While “…garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated…the neighborhood,” she resisted and refused the change, and lived a life just like a time capsule that was never buried. She was caught between the past and the present time and she stood still-just like her home, she stood there unaffected by the changes around her. Emily refused and resisted change; in essence, she refused progress.
Progress is necessary for our joy and satisfaction. It is essential that we learn from the past and use it to make things better for the future. Emily typified the post-war southerners who strongly refused change and viewed it as futile. She lived her life dwelling in the past, stubbornly snubbed the changes around her, and stayed in recluse. She was isolated until her very end, which could have been avoided had she been a little open minded and malleable to change, for change is inevitable. As the former UK Prime Minister, the late Harold Wilson said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution, which rejects progress is the cemetery.”