Inspiration + Imagination + Challenge

"A Rose for Emily" is a Ghost Story.

by Marian Mirosław Soja



A novel "A Rose for Emily", the first Faulkner's publication, can be interpreted in many ways. Nevertheless, thirty years later after the first publication, during an interview, Faulkner expresses his point of view about the story; he stresses that "A Rose for Emily" is a ghost story. On the other hand, the content of story has a lack of any fragment dedicated to a straight manifestation of ghosts; therefore, at the first glance, it is difficult to support Faulkner's opinion. In spite of it, at the story there are elements such as sense of time, few episodes, and a symbolic picture of Emily with her father that could be strong supportive evidence for Faulkner's explanation.


The first element is the sense of time in the story. Usually, time represents an ordered sequence of events. In contrast, "A Rose for Emily" starts with information that Emily, the main character of the story, is dead. After this, there is a sequence of time sensitive episodes provided in a confusing order. For example, the next episode is a conflict between Emily and Board of Aldermen. After this, the story jumps in time into another thirty years earlier episode of conflict between Emily and her neighbors about bad smell at her property. Next, there is another earlier episode of her father's death. After few other episodes provided in the same unordered fashion, the final episode returns to a moment after Emily's funeral. In other words, the time continuum in "A Rose for Emily" does not exist, because the sequence of next and earlier episodes appear almost randomly in similar way as picked cards form a shuffled stack. For this reason, the time factor in the story is as meaningless as time in the world of ghosts.


The second element is Emily's response during a conversation with members of Board of Aldermen about her unpaid property's taxes. Emily refuses to pay city's taxes because Colonel Sartoris, a past major of Jefferson who is dead, releases her form this duty. On the argument of Aldermen that there is noting on the city's books about it, Emily replies, "see Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson." Emily's reply could mean that she is still in contact with Colonel Sartoris in spite of the fact that he is dead.


Moreover, Emily does not recognize any legal authorities. For example, "We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn't you get a notice from the sheriff, signed by him?" She replies, "I received a paper, yes, (…) Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff . . . I have no taxes in Jefferson." On the other hand, Emily recognizes only authority of ghosts such as the ghost of Colonel Sartoris.


The third element is Emily's attitude after death of her father. She refuses to accept the fact that her father is dead. From her point of view, he is still alive because she feels his presence. Maybe she continuously communicates with him. For example, it requires three days to convince her that the body of her father must be removed from the house and buried. In fact, the presence of her father's ghost is as powerful as presence of her father when he is alive. Therefore, Emily does not see a difference between her father alive or dead. Emily feels the present of her father; therefore, from Emily's point of view, her father is alive.


The fourth element is an episode at a drug store. Emily buys a poison but she does not want to divulge for what purpose she buys arsenic. A druggist demands from her the answer, which is required by law, about the poison's purpose. In response, she uses a mysterious force to convince the druggist and sell the poison without asking her additional questions. For example, "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." Emily achieves what she wants because she hypnotizes the druggist through the eye contact. The incident symbolizes a presence of a powerful, mysterious, supernatural force surround Emily. Probably it is a presence of her father's ghost. For this reason, Homer's death could be revenge from her father on Homer because he hurts Emily's feelings.


Finally, there is a significant symbolism associated with description of Emily's father at a picture. For example: "Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door." The most significant elements of the picture are the horsewhip in a hand of Emily's father and the fact that he is in a foreground of the picture where Emily is standing in the background. The whip in his hand symbolizes a discipline but it is also a weapon. In other words, if somebody would like to touch his daughter, must first to face Emily's father. Consequently, everybody who messes up with Emily definitively would mess up with her father and could face serious consequences. For instance, Homer faces the consequence - his death. In other words, the ghost of Emily's father protects her; however, the whip also symbolizes that her father's ghost possesses her. The pose of Emily in the background is like a trained white pony ready to carry her father on its back. This symbolizes that Emily is lead by a ghost of her father; in other words he possessed her.


Moreover, Emily pays a terrible price for her protection from ghosts. She must give up her freedom of choice. She is a white pony who dreams to be Pegasus. Her father does not hesitate using the horsewhip in order to remind her that she is not Pegasus but only a white pony.


Emily does not recognize a difference between the real world and the world of ghosts because ghosts posses and protect her. For this reason, as the same as ghosts, she does not recognize legal authorities from the real world and has a mysterious influence on others. In fact, the entire situation puts her above any legal system. Legal authorities cannot force her to pay taxes. In addition, she does not face any legal consequences for killing Homer. Therefore, in spite of lack in the story fragments dedicated to a straight manifestation of ghosts, the novel "A Rose for Emily" is a ghost story. It's a tragic story about a person who is possessed by ghosts and for this reason she does not have a freedom of choice.





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 Inspiration + Imagination + Challenge