The year is 1852, Emily Grierson has just been born into the small town of Jefferson. A town she will soon discover has distinct hierarchial differences and social classes that are to be followed by everyone in her community. However this same community and the values which it holds will eventually be a key factor in determining Miss Emily’s madness. “A Rose for Emily”, tells the story of a woman who fails to live up to her high reputation and fitting in a community where almost everyone knows each others business. William Faulkner lets the reader into the life of Emily Grierson from two different key perspectives, man and woman. The men represent respectful affection towards Emily, while the women are just plain curious and enjoy gossiping behind her back. In this story Faulkner reveals how a community’s actions, or in this case, lack of action can contribute to one’s madness.
Faulkner opens “A Rose for Emily” with a lengthy fifty-six-word single sentence that shows the community’s reaction to her death and describes the scene through gender differences. Although both men and women attend the funeral, they do so for very distinct reasons. Faulkner writes, “When Miss Emily died, 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, which no one save an old manservant- a combined gardener and cook- had seen in at least ten years” (p.52-53). With this initial passage we see what motivates the townspeople to attend Emily’s funeral. Although the men attend the funeral to show a sort of respectful affection, the reader gets the feeling that the men have attended because they feel obligated to. The women on the other hand show up just so that they can see the inside of her house and learn more about her life. Although Emily is the main subject of the tale, Faulkner’s description of the community’s reaction toward her funeral, elevates the town as the truer subject. Also after reading this passage we are shown for the first time that Emily is viewed in the community as an object, a monument perhaps and this is where her person hood is lost. The town almost refers to her as a thing instead of as an individual. Another example, that shows Miss Emily as something other than human comes in the third paragraph as she is described as “a tradition, a duty, and a care”.
Usually when people know they are being watched or spied upon they often feel that their privacy has been invaded, which was the case of Miss Grierson. The townspeople always seemed to know of her whereabouts, who she was seeing and even the smell that ensued from her house. Passage after passage as the narrator reports of what is happening in Miss Emily’s life, the reader gets the feeling she is being watched like a hungry shark. It’s almost as if the townspeople take turns making note of her every move. For example, when Miss Emily’s cousins were in town, Faulkner writes, “we sat back to watch developments” (pg.56). It seems even store owners take note of her business. “We learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweller and ordered a man’s toilet set in silver, with the letters H.B. on each piece” (pg.56). They even make sure they know what she’s up to on a daily basis, “Two days later we learned that she bought a complete outfit of men’s clothing, including a nightshirt” (pg.57). It’s somewhat ironic that the women know so much about Emily, yet they have never talked to her or gotten to know her. Emily must sense that the people only regard her as a sort of tourist attraction and thus keeps to herself and is almost made to feel like a prisoner in her own house. Not having anyone to talk with or socialize with may also have contributed to Miss Emily’s madness.
After reading the third passage, one gets the feeling that Emily tries to reach out to the community, when she goes to the local druggist and asks for poison. When Emily purchases the arsenic, the druggist harbors a fear regarding the use to which Emily intends to put the poison. When the man asks her what she wants it for, “Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him right in the eye, until he looked away, and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up” (pg.56). Sometimes people who are looking to commit suicide look for someone or something to prevent them from going through with it. Maybe Emily thought that the druggist would be really concerned about her and deny the sale of the arsenic. It’s almost as if the druggist has too much affection for her to see clearly what he saw in her eyes. And maybe if he didn’t stop her, when word got out that is what she had bought, maybe someone in the town would have stopped her. However, the town does not come forward in her time of need, in fact the very next day the townspeople decided, “She will kill herself”; And we said it would be the best thing” (pg.56). This had to have drove her close to insanity, knowing no one would care if she took her own life. Also the community would have liked her to have committed suicide because of her tarnished image.
Now that the townspeople have deemed the house dead, they wait for her to die. When Miss Emily continues to live, the community refuses to invest in an alternative interpretation of the arsenic. They simply want to forget about it or suppress it. The druggist and the community members thus house information that our narrator could pursue, but does not. The narrator is too imbedded in the togetherness of the community to interrogate his fellow neighbours. In Emily’s community “common sense” codes believed to be truths facilitate lack of knowledge. Codes about asking women questions, assumptions about what a woman would use arsenic for seem quite common. However, Emily refuses daily, to participate in the symbol making of her as a precious lady of the old South, an idol and an icon. Although she has almost thirty years to bury Homer Barron in the ground she simply does not. She keeps him in the bed and either sleeps with him throughout these years, or she artfully leaves the hair and crafts a pillow indentation to signify the possibility that she could have done so behind the backs of the community and behind the discourse that symbolized her.
Another example, that shows that the community would rather just turn their heads to Miss Emily’s problems comes just a short time after her father’s death, when people begin to smell the rotting corpse. When the intimate goings- on inside Emily’s house threaten to waft out into the neighbourhood, the community wants it covered with words, and wants a word to stop what they reluctantly sense. Faulkner and the judge stop the smell and the scene with lime, the word and the substance. Interestingly enough, the word “lime” has as one of its variant meanings “to paint or cover a surface”. Not only do the stealthy men rid the community of the smell; they eliminate a sense. They protect their “idol” standing in the window, and thereby conspire in the night to comply with and shield a lady and a murder just as Faulkner protects himself from knowing a woman like Emily by limiting her murderous activities to those that take place behind the doors he masterfully describes but refuses to enter.
It is safe to say that there are a large number of factors that help contribute to Miss Emily’s madness. Her father’s over controlling relationship, is not a healthy one and does not really prepare her for dealing with relationships in the future. However, when her father dies she does not receive the support she deserves from the community, simply because of her high patriarchal status. She is not regarded as a real person, who has feelings just like anyone else, instead she is put on a pedestal that she can not live up to and like an old fallen monument she leaves the people of Jefferson behind, without having a friend or someone that even cared about her. Maybe if someone would have come to her in her time of need she could have received the help she desperately needed and maybe she might have lead a fulfilling, normal and enjoyable