Friday, May 4, 2012

Who is Emily Grierson and why does she act the way that she does?

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Who is Emily Grierson and why does she act the way that she does?

William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ is a wonderfully written short story of the life of Emily Grierson. To understand this eerie tale we must not only try to understand Emily, but we also must try to understand her upbringing and her setting. In this story the setting becomes more than place or time, it becomes one of the main characters. In this paper I would like to clarify who exactly Emily Grierson is and why she carries out the actions that she does.

Who is Emily Grierson? To me, and I’m sure many others, Emily is a woman stuck in time, constrained by her surroundings and her upbringings. To truly understand Emily we must look at her upbringing by her father and at her surroundings.

Emily was brought up in the town of Jefferson, Mississippi. She was brought up in the Confederate era where her family name, Grierson, was very highly recognized. Emily was watched by the whole town, I suppose that they expected her to act in certain ways and to uphold certain values held by her fellow aristocracy. The town watched, debated, and analyzed her every move. They had their own idea of who she was and what they wanted her to be. I think that in a way she needed to uphold the beliefs of her upbringing to please the general public. Along with the setting of the town, we also have the setting of time. Even though perhaps in Emily’s mind nothing has changed, the times have changed immensely. The world was very different from the time of her upbringing. Instead of a divided North and South with strong Southern aristocracy, there was now an awkward union of the North and South. Whether Emily knew it or not, the Southern aristocracy of the past was dying, perhaps even dead.

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We must next look into her upbringing in different terms; not in terms of where she was raised, but by whom she was raised by. The most powerful influence over her was her father, who held an incredible amount of power over her. This is symbolized by Faulkner in the following line; “Emily a slender woman in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip.” He does in fact control her and probably every aspect of her life, including her love life. He never allows her to date anyone, as it is most likely that no one is near good enough for Emily Grierson. I feel that due to this constant control over her by her father that she begins to feel somewhat, for lack of a better word, comfortable and soothed by a constant male figure. I think she grew accustomed to this and therefore would always need someone, avoiding loneliness at all costs. I think that Emily grew to believe that a man has to play some significant role in her life.

We then must move onto our next topic, perhaps the next chapter in Emily’s life; the bond that she shared with Homer Barron. I think that there are many people who don’t see eye to eye on many matters of this topic, but I think that Homer was gay. Simply stated, he liked men, and to me it is the duty of the reader to take that literally as it seems to give the story more logic. Homer was Emily’s first boyfriend; after all, her father never let her date. As stated before, no one was ever good enough for Emily. Why did Emily choose Homer to be with though? He was a Yankee, a Northerner, and a worker or “day laborer” to boot. How could a Grierson be interested of someone of that sort? Well to me she would first of all do anything to avoid being alone and without a male figure in her life, and finally there was simply no one else left. All the men considered good enough for her had long since been turned away by her father, had lost interest, or had gone on to marry someone else.

At the close of the story we learn that Emily has seemingly killed Homer and has kept his body for about 40 years. I feel that there are multiple possible motives as well as, dare shall I say, accomplices?

One possibility is that to Emily and to other Southern aristocracy, the uniting of the North and South was not the way the world was meant to be. It was odd in the first place that Emily was ‘dating’ a Northerner. It could NEVER be tolerated that a Northerner would not want to be with Emily, and would want to leave her. Emily then had to kill Homer to save face for the Grierson name as well as all remaining Southern aristocracy. She absolutely had to maintain her status at all costs.

However on the exact flip side of that, I thought that maybe her love for Homer was absolutely pure and true. What if also her love for her upbringing and for the Southern aristocracy was just as pure and as true? How embarrassing it would be for Emily to be seen by another member of Southern aristocracy with a Northerner. Can you imagine the embarrassment in marrying one? So maybe she then had to kill Homer as it was the only way to be with her ‘Yankee.’

Another ‘theory’ of why she killed Homer was simply because she was never allowed to have a man before. Now that she has a man why in the heck would she ever want to let him go? I don’t think that she ever even thought of letting him go as a possibility. Homer was perhaps her only chance at true happiness. She couldn’t let go, and therefore killing Homer was the only way to make sure she kept her man forever.

Back to the idea of the setting being a character in the story, did Miss Emily kill Homer because she was ultimately so molded by her surroundings? Did the setting mold her every thought and action? Perhaps in the end, by Homer’s death, the town got what it wanted. After all, none of the people seemed in the least bit surprised by the discovery of the body.

My last idea is that she simply had to kill Homer to avoid being lonely. After the death of her father maybe Emily can not imagine ever having to be alone again. So she then had to kill Homer to avoid loneliness as she would have no one else left to be with.

Now here is my explanation of the ‘accomplices.’ Now, from reading and interrupting the story we can assume that Emily has killed Homer with the rat poison that she bought at the store. She did after all want “the best you have. I don’t care what kind.” (Faulkner, A Rose for Emily) Now I feel that the town is partly to blame for Homer’s death; the town then becoming my accomplices. Who else besides a Grierson would be allowed to walk into a store and demand poison without a reason for buying it? I think that the town still held the past traditions up in some fashion. I think that the townspeople were, without knowing, manipulated by their strong nostalgia. In the story it is also stated that “A neighbor saw the Negro man admit him at the kitchen door at dusk one evening. And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron. And of Miss Emily for some time.” (Faulkner, A Rose for Emily) We can then connect that passage with the earlier passage when about the awful smell emitting from her house. We should then connect that this was several years after her father’s death, around the same time of Miss Emily’s fling with Homer. The townspeople should have questioned Homer’s disappearance.

I feel that by keeping Homer’s body, she had once again tried to cling to that which had once again robbed her; just as she tried to do with her father for days.

I will now go through some more elements of Emily as a person. Does this sad murder result from her strict adherence to her ‘high society’ upbringing? I strongly feel that Emily is unable to see the way that the world really is. I think that she is not only not able to see all the changes that her atmosphere went through, but I think that she CAN’T see or understand how much the world around her has really changed. When she tells the men that she doesn’t have to pay taxes because of a verbal agreement made between past generations, she then still assumes that her name means something. She is completely oblivious to the fact that it has come to mean almost nothing. At come points in the story it is so easy to feel pity for her, as it also seems that the narrator feels the same way (for example always stating ‘poor Emily.’) We pity her loneliness and at the same time we cringe in disgust at the grossness of the smell of her house.

So who is Miss Emily? Is she crazy? Is the whole mess a romantic tragedy? I don’t think that anyone will ever know. I think like many subjective elements of this story it will remain one of the mysteries left to each individual reader.

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