A Haunting Past in Faulkner's A Rose of Emily

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A Haunting Past

In William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” Miss Emily Grierson holds on to the past with a grip of death. Miss Emily seems to reside in her own world, untarnished by the present time around her, maintaining her homestead as it was when her father was alive. Miss Emily’s father, the manservant, the townspeople, and even the house she lives in, shows that she remains stuck in the past incapable and perhaps reluctant to face the present.

At the beginning of the story, the reader learns that Miss Emily “is portrayed as ’a fallen monument,’… because she has shown herself susceptible to death (and decay) after all” (West 264). The house can also be perceived as a “fallen monument”(Faulkner 81) as the narrator proceeds to describe the house, magnificent as it once was, and how it has become dilapidated through the years. The same can be said about Miss Emily, as time passed she “looked bloated like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue”(Faulkner 82).

In her younger days however, she was “a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her clutching a horsewhip”(Faulkner 83).

One of the many indications that Miss Emily is stuck in the past is her refusal to accept that her father is dead after holding on to his body for three days. “She wants to keep him as she has known him instead of allowing him to return to dust”(Kurtz 40). Miss Emily’s father had such an impact on her life, that she was left powerless in every aspect, thus her decision to live in the past where she knew she could be in control.

The reader also learns that Miss Emily continued to retain a manservant long after slavery had ended. This “old m...

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... Among them lay a collar and tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust. Upon a chair hung the suit, carefully folded, beneath it the two mute shoes and the discarded socks. The man himself lay in the bed… Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron- gray hair.(Faulkner 86-87)

Up to the very end of Miss Emily’s life, her father was in the foreground watching and controlling, and Miss Emily unrelentingly held on to the past. She went as far as keeping a loved one’s body locked upstairs in her home for years. While admiring her loved one’s body from up close and afar, she managed to maintain a death grip on the past.
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