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Setting is place and time, and often provides more than a mere backdrop for the action of a story. William Faulkner uses this device in his complex short story "A Rose for Emily" to give insight into the lonely world of Miss Emily Grierson.
Faulkner portrays the townspeople and Emily in the southern town of Jefferson during the late 1800's to early 1900's. The town is more than just the setting in the story; it takes on its own characterization alongside Emily the main character. It is the main reasoning behind Emily's attitude and actions. It gives the reader an easier understanding into why Emily makes the decisions she does as the story unwinds.
The town of Jefferson was deeply indirectly involved in the life of Emily Grierson. They watched and debated her every move, being her analyst, they wondering why she did certain things. They had their own idea of who she was and what they wanted her to be. The reason being was that the aristocratic Grierson family that her father headed was very highly recognized in the past era of the Confederacy. Her father had much power and was close to a very popular mayor named Colonel Sartoris.
The power Emily's father has over Emily can be seen in a portrait of the two that the narrator describes: "Emily a slender woman in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip." (141) He does in fact control her like a horse, never allowing her to date anyone. And until his death she indeed does not.
After Emily's father dies, we find her becoming involved with a gay man named Homer Baron who she probably believes she will eventually marry. It is her continual relying on a male figure that gets Emily into this situation. It is the setting in which she lye that has this impact on her thought and understanding.
We eventually find out in the end that Emily kills Homer. She does this not do this out anger or hatred toward this man. It is the belief on her part, that a man has to play a significant role in her life that drives Emily to do this unbelievable act of violence. In her mind this was not a crazy thing to do.
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One critic, Celia Rodriquez, believes that Emily is trapped in the world of the past. She thinks that Emily has no recognition of fallen figures like her father and Colonel Sartoris. Celia backs this belief when she says that Emily believes she has no taxes in Jefferson because of verbal agreement with the Colonel "who had been dead for ten years." (1) A time when her family had power in the South and when the Grierson name meant something. Rodriquez talks of Emily saying "She was a "monument" of Southern gentility, an ideal of past values." (1) She gets the feeling that Emily is at constant battle with the present era.
Another critic Mary Ellen Byrne, also sees the town as a character in the story. Byrne believes that a reader comes to understand Emily by what the town thinks of her. This can be easily understood because in fact the narrator is a member of the town. Byrne says that "We can posit that the narrator constructs this story-telling as a stream of associations, a mesh of dramatic scenes and images." (1) These images that the narrator gives us curves a readers thought of Emily. We at one point pity her because of her loneliness and at another despise her because of her grossness. Just as the narrator does in the telling of the story with his or her great use of words.
At last, another critic explains "A Rose for Emily" as a terrible tragedy of how the societal roles of women can lead them to do intolerable acts. As is the case when Emily kills Homer in this story. This critic describes Emily's relationship with her father as the "patrimony of a man." (1) Emily find her happiness by having a man in her life, and after her father dies she has no one. This indeed is why she seeks out Homer Baron. The critic says "Emily is determined to have her man, her only chance for happiness." (2) She was so determined to have a man that she does not take notice when she picks Homer who is gay.
By understanding "A Rose for Emily" one can see how much of an impact setting can have on the life of a person. The way it can mold one's thought is incredible and sometimes unbearable to believe. It can cause one to do terrible things as is seen in this story. The town of Jefferson causes Emily to do the things she does. In the end, they really got what they wanted.
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Discovering Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays. 2nded. Ed. Hans P. Guth and Gabrielle L. Rico. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 140-147
Author Unknown. "From Loneliness to Lunacy: "A Rose for Emily" and "The Yellow Wall-Paper."
Byrne, Mary Ellen. "Town and Time: Teaching Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." http://www2.semo.edu/cfs/rose.html. (October 19, 2000).
Rodriquez, Celia. "An analysis of "A Rose for Emily." http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/reader/south/ ` rodriquezrose.htm