A Character Analysis of William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily"
In William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose For Emily” he had described Emily using five adjectives. These five adjectives were identified in Part IV of his story. “Thus she passed from generation to generation – dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.”(80) Alice Hall Petry makes note of Terry Heller’s analysis that “only four” of the adjectives are used by the time we get to that statement and that each adjective coincides with each Part of the story in the order that they appear. Petry also makes note to a few that have pondered the reason for Faulkner’s placement of this passage in Part IV and sums it up to be Faulkner’s way of foreshadowing.
In Part I, Faulkner described Emily to be “dear.” The word “dear” can have two meanings in this sense. Petry believes Faulkner had meant “dear” to mean “sweet or cherished” in her article. “On a tarnished easel before the fireplace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father.” (Faulkner 76) Because the portrait was done in crayon, it is assumed that Miss Emily was a child when it was drawn; childhood is assumed to be a period in life where everything is sweet and innocent. The tarnished easel would then represent that the portrait was put there in front of the fireplace for some time, a portrait that her father had cherished. In retrospect, Heller had believed the word “dear” to mean “costly.” (Petry 53) Heller sees this in Part I of the story when Emily refuses to pay her taxes. (Petry 53)
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors
and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. One
the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February came, and
there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter, asking her to call the
sheriff’s office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her
himself, offering to call or send his car for her, and received in reply a
note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded
ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment.
Later in that same Part when the aldermen went to Miss Emily’s home “Her voice was dry and cold. ‘I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves.’”
In Part II, Faulkner described Emily to be “inescapable.” Alice Hall Petry believes that Faulkner related this to the events leading to the decomposition of Homer Baron’s body and “the smell.” “…just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.” (Faulkner 76) “ ‘Just as if a man – any man – could keep a kitchen properly,’ the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed.” (Faulkner 76) To resolve the “inescapable” smell issue, some of the townspeople went to Miss Emily’s home and put lime about her yard and in her cellar. (Faulkner 77)
The next adjective Faulkner uses in Part III to describe Miss Emily as “impervious” she is not affected by or influenced by anyone. “She carried her head high enough – even when we believed that she was fallen.” Another example of Miss Emily being “impervious” is when:
The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face
like a strained flag. “Why of course,” the druggist said. “If that’s what you
want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for.” Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up.
Petry stated in her article “Emily stonily refuses to concede to the law in regard to the purchase of poison…and on a more ironic note, her sexual penetration in Part III confirms her imperviousness.” In fact, in Part III Faulkner comes right out and says how Emily is impervious. “It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness.”
In Part IV Faulkner suggests that Emily is tranquil. Petry refers to this as Emily’s “post murder life.”