A Rose for Emily Essay
In this passage, close to the end of the short story A Rose for Emily, and at the end of Miss Emily’s life as an eccentric figure in the life of the town, Faulkner literally lays out the dead woman for the reader. In a mere two sentences, one very short, and the other very long, this passage shows how the environment of this small Southern community could foster colourful personalities and peculiar behaviours.
It also hints at how a character such as Miss Emily could survive so long, and so unfettered by the constraints that seem to limit others in the town, shielded by an obsession with the past. The author uses vivid language, extended metaphor, and a rambling sentence structure to achieve this effect.
The first sentence is almost abruptly brief. The relatives do their duty, promptly and correctly, just as they should, and the first, minimalist sentence signals that. There may be little love between these relatives from Alabama, who were, as noted earlier, “even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been” (Faulkner). However, they do what is expected for relations and no more, just like the sentence itself.
The second sentence is discursive in the extreme. It begins by announcing the funeral, describes Miss Emily’s bier, the many attendees, their states of mind and their deportment. It ends by disclosing the overall confusion of past and present that Faulkner portrays as seeming endemic to the American South.
This prepares the reader for the later revelation of Miss Emily’s madness. After hearing about her unwillingness to acknowledge her father’s death, and the Confederate veterans’ blithe mental abolishment of several decades of history, the reader is not totally surprised by Miss Emily’s ultimate gruesome preservation of the past in murdering her lover and then co-sleeping with his corpse for the next several decades.
While he does not use any obvious similes, Faulkner uses an extended metaphor to compare the elderly veterans’ foggy perception of the past to an ever-green field. The images he evokes are of a fondly recalled antebellum golden age of courtship and dancing.
He personifies the crayon portrait of the senior Grierson, referring back to the ill-fated visit by the Aldermen regarding Miss Emily’s taxes. This are yet more references to the story’s theme that the dead and the past linger on unwholesomely, relating backwards to her refusal to relinquish her dad’s remains, and forward to the funeral attendees’ discovery of her nearly mummified lover.
Faulkner effectively evokes the susurration of whispered gossip by the use of ‘s’ sounds, for example, second, Miss, mass, face, musing, ladies, and the onomatopoeic sibilant. The devices he uses change slightly when he begins speaking of the Civil War veterans in attendance.
Here he uses parallelism in indicating where around the house the veterans are chatting, and in the three verbs that describe their foggy state off mind; talking, believing, and confusing. He uses antithesis to introduce the central metaphor of the passage (not…but instead). At the end of the passage, he could have said ‘untouched by the years’, but he stretches out the idea and suggests tentativeness by saying “never quite touches” (Faulkner).
The passage includes concrete words, describing the veterans’ well-groomed old uniforms for example, and abstract ones describing, for example, their state of mind, or the physical impossibility of the inanimate portrait actually thinking. He uses polysyllabic words (e.g., macabre) when he needs them, and short simple Anglo-Saxon words (e.g., courted) when they are necessary. His verbs are active, but in this passage, they are not words describing physical action.
They describe internal, mental, or emotional activity. What distinguishes his writing is his mastery of carefully constructed balanced subordinate clauses, creating beautiful and meticulously correct run-on sentences. This approach conveys, in this instance the sound of an older person rambling on about something, recalling items in mid-speech.
In general, throughout Faulkner’s work, as in this passage, these stylistic devices convey the complexity and nuanced nature of relationships in the small towns he portrays. The result is an evocative and utterly scary murder mystery – solved.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Harbrace Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Jon C Stott, Raymond E Jones and Rick Bowers. 2nd. Toronto, 1998. 144-150. paperback. 2013. Web.
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