The Correlation between Miss Emily and Her House
Basing on the short story
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
A Rose for Emily was William Faulkner’s first short story published in a major magazine. It was on the April 30, 1930, in the issue of Forum magazine. In the centre of A Rose for Emily there is an eccentric old maid, Emily Grierson. The whole story is related by an unnamed narrator, who details the queer circumstances of Emily’s life and her strange relationships with her relatives, her lover, and the place where she lives, and the horrible mystery she hides. In the short story an array of interrelated events are combined to represent a major theme of the story. The author exploits the symbolism which helps the reader to understand this theme. A Rose for Emily’s key theme is the quest for love and stability. But the ambiguous society usually meets these two basic human needs unfavorably. If to consider the social implications of the story, the final scene in the bedroom-tomb, discovering Emily’s necrophilia, suggests the necrophilia of the whole society that coexisted with a dead but unburied past. Emily becomes Jefferson’s raw point, its heritage from the past. The town shelters the degraded Grierson house, a symbol of the past. Faulkner violates chronological time in this story; thus, his narrator, stretching over several generations, is aware of the meaning of all the events that he relates.
In A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner uses the symbolical comparison of the Grierson house with Miss Emily in three vectors – her physical deterioration, her change in social status, and her unwillingness to accept the change.
If we apply chronological approach to interpretation the correlation between Miss Emily and her house, we shall notice that the house represents Miss Emily’s physical characteristics. At the beginning, the house is depicted as “white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies” (Faulkner 119). This description suggests that the function of the house was not only to serve as habitation, but also to draw attention of Jefferson’s inhabitants and impress them. In the same way, the rich women of those days were dressed in a catchy manner. This reveals the social rule of that era that the women’s appearance is a direct reflection on their husbands and/or fathers’ fortune. Emily was treated by her father as property. Her role and significance was brought to the same as that of their abundantly lavish house.
As the reader proceeds with the story, (s)he is made aware of the physical decline of both the house and Miss Emily. Now the house is depicted as “filled with dust and shadows,” indication of Emily’s aging is conveyed through her voice “harsh, and rusty, as if from disuse” (128-129). And eventually, when Emily dies, the house is observed by the people as “an eyesore among eyesores,” and Miss Emily is esteemed as a “fallen monument” (119).
Emily’s house is also used as a symbol for Emily’s shift in social status. At the beginning, the house was “big,” and “squarish,” and situated on Jefferson’s “most select street” (119). This description implies that the residence was not only abnormally solid, but almost gothic in nature, and apparently impervious to the trifling troubles of the common people. Emily made the same impression, she was also considered to be strong and powerful. As the last living member of Grierson family, Emily personified her family’s, and supposedly, the entire south’s, opulent past. But as soon as it was rumored that her father left her no money only the house in his will the townsfolk’s attitude to Emily changed. Furthermore, her reputation was tarnished in the public opinion by her unexpected appearances with Homer Barron. Thus, it is probable that the prestige of the house diminished together with Miss Emily’s disparaged name.
And the last but not least powerful correlation occurs to compare the Emily’s house with her reluctance to accept change. Miss Emily and the house exemplify their neglect for progress when Emily refuses the house a mailbox and a number, just as Emily herself denied being associated with any modernistic and common features like mailbox. Likewise, just as Emily held herself “a little too high” for what she was, the house is described as “Lifting its stubborn and Coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps” (119). The cotton wagons and gasoline pumps in this description undoubtedly embody insignificant and idle townsfolk. This comparison gives irrefutable evidence that Miss Emily and her family’s house are tightly related with one another.
A Rose for Emily is a masterfully developed tale, in which human beings without losing their individuality become resonant symbols of an entire society. It is exactly this prolific utilization of symbolism, and masterful usage of foreshadowing that earned William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily its place among the American classics.
Works Cited List
Faulkner William, “A Rose for Emily”. Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1950, pp. 119-130.