Emily’s Enemy Because of its vast influence on human affairs, time is a major theme in the lives of humans. Consequently, time is a major theme in many literary works. In William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” time is an essential underlying theme. Faulkner teaches the reader that the march of time is unstoppable. Faulkner shows this using descriptions in the story, through Miss Emily’s inability to adapt to changes in time, and through heavy symbolism and contrast.Faulkner uses descriptions of objects as well as Emily herself to show the passing of time. The earliest description of Emily comes from a portrait of her. Faulkner describes Emily as “a slender figure in white.” The white symbolizes the innocence of youth, and therefore Miss Emily’s past. Miss Emily’s hair is another instance of description. As time goes on, her hair changes into iron gray. Another color that is used is the tarnished gold and silver. When Emily confronts the group of men who want her to pay taxes, the gold head of her cane is tarnished. The silver items in the bridal room are “so tarnished that the monogram was obscured.” The tarnish symbolizes the passage of time. The description of her house “lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores” represents a juxtaposition of the past and the present and is a symbolic presentation of Emily. The house shows dust and disuse and has a closed, dank smell. A portrayal of Emily in the following paragraph discloses her similarity to the house. “She looked bloated like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that palled hue.” As mentioned earlier, she did not always have that appearance. These descriptions show us that time has passed and has taken a toll on Emily. The house was once white and beautiful, fitting for Jefferson’s “most select street.” Emily was once a beautiful lady, an object of many suitor’s dreams.Faulkner also shows the importance of time through the fact that Emily cannot adapt to changes. Emily cannot let go of the past, a trait that is self-destructive for her. When the new Board of Aldermen arrived to discuss the issue of impending taxes, she showed that she had entered her world of the past. She states that she has no taxes in Jefferson, pointing to a verbal agreement with Colonel Sartoris, who had been dead for ten years. Similarly, she had earlier refused to realize the death of her father. Faulkner uses Emily to show us that the passage of time is inevitable. Emily wanted to go back to the time because she had social status then. In the present, she is just a curious relic. Emily constructed a world of her own where she could be sheltered from the changes of the outside world. She clings on to her past, to the point where it is obsessive. The ultimate example of this is Homer Barron. She loved him, and yet knew that she could never have him, for he was homosexual. She then kills him so that she could be with him forever. Emily’s position on the problem of time is suggested in the funeral scene where the old Confederate soldiers appear. There are two perspectives on time here. The first one (the modern world’s view) sees time as a “mathematical progression” in which the past is a “diminishing road.” The second, traditional view sees the past as “a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from then and now by the narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years.” Homer, the narrator, and the modern generation share the first view. The second view is that of the Confederate soldiers and the old Board of Aldermen. Emily, however, did not have such a bottleneck in time. Her “meadow of the past” was the room in which she slept beside Homer’s body. This “meadow of the past” served as a buffer between Emily and the reality of changing time.
Another method that Faulkner uses to show the importance of time is contrasting the past and the present. The past is represented in Miss Emily, in Colonel Sartoris, in the old Negro servant, and in the Board of Aldermen who accepted the Colonel’s tale by not making Emily paying her taxes. The words of the narrator express the present. The new Board of Aldermen, Homer Barron (who represents the Yankee attitudes towards the Old South), and “the next generation with its more modern ideas” also represent the present time. The attitude of Judge Stevens also shows the conflict of time. Members of the younger generation want him to tell Miss Emily to get rid of the smell that had been lingering about her house. The eighty-year old man replies: “Dammit, sir . . . will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bed?” The judge’s resistance to the changes in ideals brought by the younger generation mimic Emily’s own resistance.A final play on time by Faulkner occurs when he portrays Miss Emily as a “fallen monument” in the story. She is a “monument” of Southern gentility, an ideal of past values but fallen because she had shown herself susceptible to death. After her father’s death, she looked like a girl “with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows–sort of tragic and serene”. This suggests that she had already begun her trek towards death. In a sense, Emily conquered time, but only briefly and by retreating into her “rose-tinted” world of the past. This was a world in which death was denied at the same time that it was shown to exist. The story implies that such a retreat is hopeless since everyone, even Emily, is subject to death and the invasion of their world by the clamorous and curious inhabitants of the world of the present. “When Miss Emily died, our whole town went to her funeral…the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant…had seen in at least ten years.” A Rose for Emily shows death as the past and tradition. It is this past that Miss Emily attempted to hold on to. William Faulkner thus shows us that time and the changes it brings must be embraced, for better or for worse, because the past is no more.