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A Rose For Emily – Memorializing the Anniversary of William Faulkner’s Death
July 6, 2009 is the forty-seventh anniversary of William Faulkner’s death. Although the day of death is not something we celebrate (what, no piñatas?), we must remember that Faulkner’s writings relied heavily on themes of death and decay, and that they cannot make us tremble. about his death – or anyone else’s.
Faulkner would want us to tremble before him, apparently, it was his writings, which have confusing plots, long impossible sentences, clichés, time shifts, changes in the narrator, and really, really – what is it called? – big words. (Hemingway famously criticized: “Poor Faulkner. Does he think that great emotion comes from big words? He thinks I don’t know all the ten-dollar words. I know them well.” Uh huh. Sounds like somebody’s guilty. Throw all that on top of the fact Faulkner’s Southern Gothic writings are full of dark humor, morbid, fascinating characters, and racist and prejudiced movements, and you don’t end up with the kind of book you read on the beach. (Two Nobel Prize winners in literature.)
If you are looking for something to honor the person on the day of their death, you can try the very possible “A Rose for Emily”. This Gothic short story is about relationships, conflict, forbidden love, murder, and macabre love interests. Think “Twilight,” minus all the sex. (We hope so.)
True to form, the story begins at a funeral. A light but dramatic funeral followed by four weddings? Not a chance. The year is the 1930s, and a funeral is being held for Miss Emily Grierson, an elderly Southern belle whose oppressive father has thwarted her chances at a romantic life. Flashback to the 1890s: when Emily’s father bites the dust, leaving his 30-year-old daughter with a home but no money, Emily isolates herself in her room for three days before admitting she’s passed out. Sympathizing with his situation, the townspeople decide to let him pay taxes again. Life returns to normal and Emily gets to do what she does best: pretend to be trapped. That is, until a fun-loving but possibly shy Northerner named Homer Barron comes to town and appears to be driving her around. Irrational reasoning begins. Are they getting married? Are they running out? Will they get back together? Am I gay? No really, is he gay? Because it’s Mississippi in the 1890’s here, folks.
Interestingly, when Homer tries to get away from Emily (who has been buying arsenic) and is last seen entering her house, all emotions seem to give way. In fact, when this wonderful smell is heard, the townspeople kindly sprinkle lime throughout the house. No questions were asked. (To be fair, she was from the North.) For thirty-something years – except for a few years when the girls went to her house to study art – Emily lived her life in solitude. Then he dies, bringing up the rest of our story. After Emily’s funeral, the townspeople can enter the house and investigate. And what awaits them there in the bed of the bride’s room? None other than Homer Barron, naturally! (Naturally, really. Think natural behavior naturally.) But wait, we haven’t gotten to Hallmark’s real time yet! Next to Homer’s lovingly arranged corpse is a pillow – still bearing the mark of recent use – with Emily’s long hair on it.
So, as you can see, the idea of celebrating William Faulkner’s death anniversary is not that difficult. The most important thing is that – as he wrote – we are able to maintain enough perspective that the dark and ugly parts do not distract us from the main message. So, what exactly is “A Rose for Emily”? You can say that it is a metaphor for the modern slow process in the South. After all, old Miss Emily endures pain in the town she’s lived in for so long – a fact that’s reflected in the way the story revolves around a story she can’t seem to let go of. With him, he brings the ghosts of the past, forcing his friends to retell their dark history. (We let our kids take art lessons from WHO?!)
Or, you could be a little more sophisticated and go with what Faulkner said are “the simple things that all people want.” You know, if that’s what you are.
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