Monday, March 1, 2010

What Rose?

William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is a very strange story about the cage created by those with power. Emily Grierson was born into a family of wealth and fortune, but because of that very wealth and fortune, never truly progressed with her life. Her father kept all of the men away because he believed they were too good for her, and so Emily was utterly alone. When her father died, at first Emily would not let his body go and did not believe it, but after convincing, she finally allowed them to bury her father. She had been trapped alone by him in life, and now with his death, he had doomed her to live alone once more.

"A Rose for Emily" focuses a lot on the ties of death with that of wealth. In the beginning, Emily's house is described as having a "stubborn and coquettish decay." Even the house is something viewed as dying, as old money and old power continues to hold on and remain while the rest fades away. The neighborhood around Emily's house disappears into that of cotton farms and gas pumps, but her house remains.

Emily herself is also a sickly image of death and decay. "a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her, she looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough." What an image! The details are simply grotesque. She had a gold chain, probably that of a pocket watch, which symbolized her wealth, and her ebony cane, but the head was tarnished showing age and neglect. She was fat, but very thin boned, almost a skeleton with all of the fate in her stomach and cheeks. But the fat was all bloat, that of a rotting dead person who has been soaking in water for ages. And to tie it all, she looked as if submerged in motionless water; an image of timelessness. All of these contribute to the idea that she is not necessarily alive.

It is then explained that her house once reeked of a terrible scent, but the people of the town simply sprinkled lime around the perimeter and into her cellar in order to remove the scent. Would the town have thought something else had it not been Emily? Would the smell have decay worried people into thinking more? It is possible that they dismissed the idea that someone had been killed simply because of the legend that had become Emily Grierson. It is speculated that, had the town not had the prenotion that it was Emily and that she surely was simply being Emily, they would have marched straight up to her door and investigated.

That said, sometime before this event, but after her father's death, Emily began seeing a man. She began seeing Homer Barron, a Yankee who had come down south to work. Homer was a tall dark haired man who worked as a laborer. Emily and him would be seen driving a yellow car around town on Sundays. Then one day people began to worry. First some were happy that Emily was looking for a relationship, while others felt that she was a disgrace for being with such a lowly man. It became known that Homer was interested in guys, or so he said. He would go out with his male friends and they would drink together. It is possible that Homer was gay, or that he simply was not interested in marrying. He disappeared shortly after Emily purchased some poison, but no one thought about it.

It was not until Emily's passing, when the village was allowed to enter her home, that it was finally revealed to be true. In the bedroom that was decorated as a bridal suite, they found the dead body of Homer Barren. He had died in an embrace, and on his body they found the hair of Emily. The disturbing thing is, it was more recent hair. Just like Emily, the room was timeless, filled with dust and age. When Homer did not return her love, she vowed to keep him forever. The evidence of the gray hair admits that she had been sleeping with the body even after dead. Doomed by her father, she had maybe felt that she could defeat him and have love forever by poisoning her love so that he could not leave, and in a strange way, maybe it worked. A love in death, necrophilia.

Emily Grierson had been trapped by her wealth and status, by her privileges and she tried to defeat them in the timelessness of death. She may have succeeded, but I sincerely doubt she had found true happiness. This very same cage kept the town from truly admitting that something was wrong and that there might be more to what had been going on. We may never know. In a way, the very story is a tribute, a rose for Emily.