More than a Rose – English Literature Essay
Society has a way of determining what it wants people to be. To an extent certain ethnic or racial groups are told by society that they aren’t to have certain jobs or live certain places. Television and movies hardly ever show black doctors living in Beverly Hills. There are rarely white men who challenge for the heavyweight boxing title, and even fewer
women in each of those categories. In the same way, a person’s family might put a mindset into that person just because of what that family is. Some of these alien sources can be changed and some will probably always have a negative influence on people. These factors affect the way a person is perceived and how that person behaves. In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, a town gives its account of one of its oldest citizens. The town expresses a dislike for Miss Emily Grierson when actually all of Emily’s problems come from sources alien to her.
The first source of Emily’s problems lies in the town itself. The town causes the beginning of Emily’s problems by granting her the right to not have to pay taxes. The town says that Miss Emily is a burden on them when it says “Alive, Miss Emily has been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris…remits her taxes…” (Faulkner 377). If Colonel Sartoris had not given Emily the privilege of not paying her taxes, they would not have the problem of the rest of the town being jealous of that privilege. Emily becomes accustomed to not having to pay taxes, which is a right legally granted to her. When asked if she received a notice to pay her taxes, she replies “I received a paper, yes. Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff…I have no taxes in Jefferson.” (Faulkner 378) Then the Board of Aldermen says “But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see. We must go by the…” (Faulkner 378). It is the town’s own fault for not having proper records of who has to pay taxes and who does not have to pay them. The whole problem of Emily not paying her taxes is put on her by the town and then made worse by the town when they try to change their mind on Emily’s tax status.
The next thing that the town does to cause Emily’s problems is to pry into her personal life and try to change it. The town says, “At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized.” (Faulkner 379) Her being inhuman is a matter of their thought, not hers. Then they say “Poor Emily” (Faulkner 380) when she starts being seen with Homer Barron and they think she might marry him. The town should have no reason to pity her, as she seems to be in love with a good man. They don’t like the man because he is a northerner, which is another problem altogether for the town. The town then begins to think it is wrong for Emily to be seen with Homer, as they say “Then some of the ladies began to say it is a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people” (Faulkner 381). So the town forces its will upon their minister who goes to talk with Emily. The town says “He would never divulge what happened during that interview, but he refuses to go back again” (Faulkner 381). Once again the town tries to force its ideas upon Emily. The people of the town should just let her live her life the way she sees fit.
The other source of Emily’s problems is her family. Her father chases away any men that came to try to court Miss Emily. The town says, “We remember all the young men her father had driven away…” (Faulkner 379). They also say “The people in our town…believe that the Griersons hold themselves a little too high for what they really are” (Faulkner 379). The town forms its opinion of Emily from how it sees her family. Then the town says of her cousins “We were glad because the two female cousins were even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been” (Faulkner 381). The town is once again assuming that Emily is like her family, when they don’t even know her. Had Emily not been born to the Grierson family, she probably would have a much more normal lifestyle.
Emily’s problems come from the town and the precedents her family has set. Emily is only acting the way she thinks everyone expects her to act. “[Faulkner wishes] to force the reader to look behind the words to the hidden, more profound meaning that is nowhere expressly embodied in the writing” writes Claude-Edmonde Magny (144). In society today children of the poor are often seen as growing up to be poor, and therefore many of them do. Treating them in this way only contributes to their demise, just as treating Emily the way the town and her family do contributes to hers. Faulkner is saying in his subtle way that society should open its mind.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Fictions. Eds. Joseph F. Trimmer and C. Wade Jennings. 3rd ed. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
Magny, Claude-Edmonde. “Faulkner, or Theological Inversion”. Contemporary Literary Criticism 18 (1981): 143-145.