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Character Analysis: Emily in A Rose for Emily

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“A Rose for Emily” is a short story written by William Faulkner, a towering figure in American literature of the first half of 20th century. The author masterfully expresses a tragedy of humanity with its right and wrong decisions indeed through a tragic woman Emily. The story shows tremendous transformations that could happen to a person under the pressure of an inconstant world if he or she is too weak to resist it.

In A Rose for Emily we can watch how the main character, Emily Gierson, changes from young slender lady in white to an old plump woman in black, from an innocent angel to a murderer and corpse keeper. Those terrible changes were caused by many reasons. Most of them did not depend on her.

Emily was growing up without mother. We can notice that the author of the story never mentions her as if she had never existed. Obviously there were a lot of questions Emily could not discuss with her austere father. She felt very lonely and isolated in her own world.

When Emily became a young woman and had a lot of suitors, Mr. Gierson thought that, “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such” (58) and he did not let her get married until he passed away. Emily was almost 30 at that moment. At those times it meant she had almost no chances to get married at all. Maybe Emily’s father felt some kind of jealous that many fathers subconsciously feel of their daughters which could get married and leave them. So unintentionally Emily’s father ruined her personal life just wishing her well and being afraid of loneliness in his older age.

Mr. Gierson kept Emily away from realities of this world and so when he died (and left no money to his daughter) it was a very painful and unexpected blow for Emily. Her world crumbled away. She was not ready for such chapter of accidents and in shock she refused to believe in his death. She denied it for days and did not permit anyone to bury his body – it was an unequivocal expression that something had gone wrong with Emily’s mind.

Emily’s father, being one of the old school, was not ready to except that times had changed and that was clear that he resisted urgency of changing himself and adaptation to the changing environment that reduced them to penury. And the worst thing about it is that he did not teach or prepare Emily to the necessity of changing. So she was unable to accommodate to the outer world, stand up for herself and make decisions by herself. Emily did not know how to get along with other people. She was not taught how to survive on her own. She was not allowed to get married when she had a chance to. That was completely her father’s fault. He started pushing Emily to an edge from which she fell down. The town, Emily’s cousins and her lover gave her the last push.

In truth, the town played significant part in Emily’s fate. The people trod on her with their gossiping. Emily was a kind of celebrity to the town which surveilled each her step. They intruded their ‘help’ upon her.

That was how people of the town described Emily and her father: “We had long thought of them as a tableau” (58); “People in our town … believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were” (58). They thought that “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (55).

The townspeople liked to take pity on Ms. Emily. It was a kind of having mercy on her. Each time when something bad was happening to Emily, they felt odd happiness. If misery happens to anybody probably the one will need some help. If somebody helps that one who was in a trouble it makes him feel he is needed. But not everyone needs help. Sometimes help can be harmful. For example, when Emilie’s father died and left her without money, “in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less” (58).

They took pity on poor Emily and decided to keep her from taxes. Thus the townspeople of old generation isolated her from material needs. As a result, when the next generation came to Emily to keep her pay taxes she refused that she had owed any. If Emily had understood that she ought to go out and earn money and live like other people did, it would lead Ms. Gierson to her adaptation to the outer world. 

But everything went wrong. People expected Emily to welcome them and their help with opened arms. But she did not. Contrariwise, Emily immured herself. Truly, the townspeople just wanted to reinvent Emily and make her live the way they did. It would help them to calm down and be glad for a moment. Emily’s refusal stroke the town. But the townspeople did not stop to intrude themselves upon Ms. Gierson.

When strong smell had begun to emanate from Emily’s house the town did not want to say to her about it. So they made a decision to send men to her house in the night to sprinkle lime around it. The smell disappeared. Thus the town kept her from making her own decisions and left Emily in her comfort inner world.

Then people of the town started contradict themselves. They wanted to help her but in true that help meant that the townspeople just wanted the old monument to fall. Crowd does not like when somebody stands out.

Thus when Emily finally fell in love they interfered in her personal life ruining her love idyll. “The next Sunday they again drove about the streets, and the following day the minister's wife wrote to Miss Emily's relations in Alabama. So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments” (60).  They did it just to watch what would happen! It was cruel and egoistic.

Further things went from bad to worse. When Emily’s fiancé had left her and she went to the store to buy arsenic, they “all said, "She will kill herself"; and …said it would be the best thing” (59). But Emily did not make a suicide. She murdered her lover.

 The only man Emily fell in love with was Homer Barron who “represented the new-born class and culture of the North – travelling around, experiencing a lot, enjoying timely and having good relations. He was not serious about love and just flirted” (Xie Qun, 68). Homer did not want to marry. For Emily, “a representative of the old moral values” (Xie Qun, 68), such irresponsibility was a shock. So when he left her she has bought arsenic and wedding gifts for Homer. The murder was not sudden. Emily planned it. She did not want Homer to leave her like her father had done. Ms. Gierson wanted her lover to be with her forever. So the only way to make him stay was a murder. Thus she killed and left him just for herself. But when Homer’s body started to decay she comprehended that her plan failed. She cannot be with anyone forever.

Homer was the last crook in Emily’s path that distinguished her from the world forever. After her lover’s death she had grown fat and her hair turned grey. She completely isolated herself. Emily buried herself alive. She became a living corpse. Emily’s house became a tomb for her lover and her.

When Emily, the town’s idol, closed her days, “our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (55). The townspeople began to feel a kind of sympathy to her, “talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps” (61). Emily had kept her secrets well till death opened them.

Each of us wants to run from problems and cruel reality (when our ideals fall) instead of facing it. Emily’s story shows how one could end the life if he/she flees. Emily dreamed about perfect life in love and peace with people she loved. But poor girl did not know how to gain such life. An angel in white meets horrible reality full of lie, jealousy and cruelty and finds herself unable to resist it. To my mind we should probably sympathy her. She obeyed her father, society and her fears. Seclusion is never an option.  Emily’s story of life proclaims that we have only one life to live, therefore we should not waste it on following empty ideals, isolating ourselves from others and obeying unquestioningly.

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