The Role of the Town in Emily’s Crime in “A Rose for Emily”

“A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner is a nostalgic story focusing on the dysfunctional life of Emily Grierson, a character representing the traditional culture of people in the South in the town of Jefferson in Mississippi. “A Rose for Emily” sheds light on critical societal issues and pressure from people’s expectations, often pushing victims to the edge and encouraging them to engage in unspeakable acts. Although Emily Grierson is a respected and prominent figure in Jefferson, she lives a life that sparks curiosity. However, the principal focus of the story is Emily’s inability to find a life-long partner due to several limiting factors in her life. In the end, the author reveals that Emily committed a heinous crime and kept it a secret for decades. Nonetheless, the town and its culture drive Emily to commit the crime by setting high standards for women and relationships, always interfering with her life, and constantly gossiping.

Emily Grierson is a woman who suffered at the hands of a society with high standards for women, marriage, and relationships, thus preventing her from finding someone to court and marry at a young age. Dilworth suggests that individuals in the town sought to preserve the values of the old South, with Emily as their embodiment of a classy Southern woman (252). Subsequently, people in the town idealized everything about how women in the South should live, dress, and behave. As a result, Emily’s society also idealized romance and set standards that Emily and other women of her stature were obligated to conform to. Nonetheless, Emily’s father is the first person to establish a barricade between her daughter and the town’s men by keeping them away until she is over 30 years old (Faulkner 159). According to the narrator, Emily’s father holds that none of the men who seek Emily’s hand in marriage are worthy of her. Subsequently, this belief prevents her daughter from leaving the house until she is old. Even so, none of the young men in the town were ever good enough for Emily, resulting in her loneliness and dysfunctional attributes.

Emily rebels against the white Southerners’ values by falling in love with Homer. Similarly, she conforms to her society’s values after ending her relationship with him. Dilworth also points out that the reason why Emily kills Homer is to placate society (251). Seemingly, society takes the role of her father after his death because they always question her next move and her ability to find a soul mate. High standards in Emily’s society are also evident when she is seen driving around town with Homer. The narrator explains that people in the town were pleased that she was with someone. Nevertheless, they are still judgemental because of the differences between Emily and Homer. According to the narrator, the town’s people know that a lady of high standards like Emily would not settle for a low-class northern laborer. However, they are keen to watch the couple’s next move since they do not know what to expect from the relationship. (Faulkner 161). Thus, the unusually high standards drive Emily to commit the crime and hide behind closed doors as she is fed up with their criticism.

Individuals in the town of Jefferson also motivate Emily’s crime by occasionally interfering with her life and her business. Dilworth suggests that the narrator carries the persona of society and goes to great lengths to hide its shortcomings (252). Although the town’s people behave as if Emily is the one with the problem, they know a lot about Emily, her life, and how she chooses to live. The narrator tells the story strategically to uncover a wealth of information about Emily and the issues she perseveres through with the town members. However, individuals in the town are obsessive and manipulative by overlooking the bad behavior of meddling in Emily’s business (Melczarek 238). Even before she meets Homer, the people in the town discuss her relationship status and cannot wait to see her with a man (Faulkner 158). Consequently, Emily’s life remains a mystery to the town members, who are unusually interested in her.

According to the narrator, Emily’s brief relationship with Homer became the talk of the town as it was widely discussed between individuals, including the old and the young. However, contrary to old individuals’ perceptions, the younger generation thought that there was nothing wrong with marrying a low-life northerner because fornication was much worse. Moreover, all individuals in the town were keen and attentive to all of Emily’s movements (Melczarek 240). For instance, when Emily is seen with Homer driving through town, the town’s people say that she is a bad example. Moreover, even after Homer announces that he is not interested in marriage, individuals in the town perceive his relationship with Emily as a disgrace, suggesting that they can hardly mind their business. Thus, Emily’s society did not respect her privacy, thus pushing her to commit the crime and live a life of solace.

Finally, individuals in the town drive Emily to kill Homer because they constantly gossip about her life. According to Wallace, the narrator has in-depth information about Emily, her life, her relationship status, and the errands she runs in town. For example, the narrator has precise information about what transpired in Judge Steven’s office and the druggist’s store. Thus, Wallace concludes that the narrator knows too much because the information was passed to him in a bucket brigade of gossip, making him an unreliable informant like the gossiping townspeople (106). Moreover, the individuals in the town speak about everything that Emily does, including her occasional drives into town and his car rides with Homer. Thus, it is evident that all individuals in the town are constantly making Emily uncomfortable, which drives her to commit her act.

“A Rose for Emily” is a story that sheds light on how societal misdemeanors, stereotyping, and values can interfere with individuals’ well-being. Emily suffered through aggravated pressure throughout her life because of high standards and expectations from her father and society. Also, the town members interfered with her life because they never gave her peace of mind. Instead, the town judged Emily because of her social position and preconceived ideas that she was an ideal embodiment of a woman and an example to others. Moreover, the town members had no respect for her life or privacy, as they constantly gossiped and spread information about Emily. Consequently, all these factors contributed to her grief and encouraged her to commit the crime to escape her reality.

Works Cited

Dilworth, Thomas. “A romance to kill for: homicidal complicity in Faulkner’s” A Rose for Emily”.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 36, no. 3, 1999, pp. 251-252.

Faulkner, William, John Carradine, and Anjelica Huston. A rose for Emily. Paderborn, De: Verlag F. Schöningh, 1958.

Melczarek, Nick. “Narrative motivation in Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily.” The Explicator, vol. 67, no. 4, 2009, pp. 237-243. DOI:10.1080/00144940903250144

Wallace, James M. “Faulkner’s a Rose for Emily.” The Explicator, vol. 50 no. 2, 1992, pp.105-107. DOI:10.1080/00144940.1992.9937918

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