Emily's Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in

Emily's Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in Faulkner's "A Rose for
Author(s): Helen E. Nebeker
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, Vol. 24, No. 1
(Mar., 1970), pp. 3-13
Published by: Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1346461 .
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The thesisof this paper,simplystated,is thatfortyyearsof criticalstudy
of Faulkner'sshort story,"A Rose for Emily,"has failed to come to grips
with the problemof its narrativefocus or point of view. Furthermore,I
will contendthat this failureto fully explorethe significanceof the narrative
voice has obscuredseveralessentialpointsof the story,chief of which is the
underlyinghorrorof Faulkner'sreal theme, a theme which he has kept
successfullyhidden throughthe years within his deliberatestructuralambiguity and behind his anonymousnarrator.
As mostreadersare no doubtaware,the generalview of criticsregarding the anonymous,ubiquitousnarratoris that he is a kind of innocuous,
naive, passive citizen of Jefferson,who relatesfor the readerthe story of
Miss Emily'slife and death. Or, in the wordsof one criticsummingup the
prevailing view, he is " ... a townsman, gifted in the art of storytale-telling,
shiftinghis identityimaginativelyas he moves throughthe story." Or, as
another group of critics states, the narrator simply records " . . . the pro-
gress or advancein the ... knowledgeof Emily'stownsmen... a growth
frombemusedtolerance,to suspicion,to knowledge,to horror. . " at Emily's
crime. Fromthesemoreor less similarviews of the narrator,the criticsproceed to developtheirinterpretations
of MissEmily as the proud,unbending
monumentof the Old Southwho somehowtriumphsover time and change,
therebyevokingadmirationconjoinedwith pity.'
On the surface,suchexplanationof bothnarratorand thememay suffice.
Butif one lookssharplyandcriticallyat the pointof view chosenby Faulkner,
rememberingthat the basic structuralresourceof a writeris point of view
whichbecomes,in the wordsof MarkSchorer,a mode of thematicdefinition,
and if one acknowledgesthe masteryof Faulknerin mergingperson,time,
place, and events, the importance of his chosen point of view should not be
*I want to thankmy colleague, ProfessorGeorge Herman,with whom I first discussed
these ideas, for the suggestionsand encouragementhe gave me in writing this article.
'For a few useful and interestingreferences to these interpretations,see: Cleanth
Brooks and R. P. Warren, The Scope of Fiction (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,
1960), pp. 302-306. Donald Heiney, Recent AmericanLiterature(Great Neck, N.Y.:
Barron'sEducational Series, Inc., 1958), pp. 224-225. Ray B. West, Jr., Reading the
Short Story, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1968), pp. 82-85. Explicators: VI
(May, 1948), item 45; VII (Oct., 1948), item 8; XIX (Jan., 1961), item 26; XX (May,
1962), item 78; XXII (April, 1964), item 68.
MARCH 1970
so lightly dismissed. However in just such dismissal, readers and critics alike
have permitted themselves to be fooled by a master story-tellerwho lays out
point by point the details of a horror far more monstrous than that of a poor
demented woman who kills her lover.
For the truth of the Miss Emily episode lies, not in the character and
motivation of Miss Emily, but in the identity of the narrator. And to arrive
at that identity, the reader must untangle the deliberate ambiguity of the
various pronoun references which control the point of view. Once this is
done, the implicit horrorof the story is clearly revealed, and from that horror,
a new, more subtle theme emerges, revealing starkly and undeniably the
significance of the "rose"of the title.
The reader of "A Rose for Emily" realizes immediately the vagueness
of the pronoun focus within this story. Within all five sections we note a
continual shifting of person, from our to they to we (all italics added). And
this shift is further complicated by implied shifts of referents for the various
pronouns. That is, our does not always have the same referent, nor do they
and we! For example, in Section I, this shifting ranges from the our of the
opening sentence (our whole town), which we easily equate with the townspeople, to the they of the fourth paragraph (they mailed her a tax notice),
equated at this point in the story with the generation of mayors and aldermen
who took power after the paternal despotism of Colonel Sartoris, the man
who abrogated the taxes of Miss Emily.
In Section II, we are told that ". . . she vanquished them" (the generation indicated above) "just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years
before. . . " (another previous generation). And in the shifting chronology
of events in this passage, their fathers becomes the they of the Board of Aldermen, "three gray beards and one younger man, a member of the rising generation,"who confer about the odor at Miss Emily's house. Thus, in the first
two sections, we have ambiguously but definably presented before us three
groups-the general townspeople of the inclusive our; the they of a contemporarysociety functioning when Miss Emily was in her late 50s or early
60s and to whom she refused to pay taxes; and the they of an earlier group.
This last group would have been a chronologically overlapping group composed of Emily's post-war contemporariesas well as the older pre-Civil War
generation-men such as Colonel Sartoris who, unable to affront a needy
lady with charity, concocted a story which permitted Miss Emily to accept
charity in the form of remitted taxes and a Judge Stevens, eighty years old
and unable to "accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad." Predictable
Faulknerian generations: the autocratic pre-Civil War hierarchy to whom
a lady is always a lady; the generation this hierarchy breeds, Emily's generation, characterized by decay, ruin, but also reverence for the past; the unknowing, uncaring, opportunistic new breed which will dun a lady for her
But challengingthis convenientcategorizationis the introductionin
SectionII of a differentpronoun,the we who thoughtof Emily and her
fatheras a tableau:"MissEmily a slenderfigurein white in the background,
her fathera spraddledsilhouettein the foreground,his back to her, clutching a horsewhip . .. "; the we who were not pleased but vindicated when
she reachedthirtyand was still single;the we who did not say she was crazy
then because they rememberedall the young men her father had driven
away.Traditionallythishas been acceptedas a universalwe, referringto the
townspeopleas a whole as indicatedby the previous"ourwhole town"it supposedlyis the we of publicrumor,piecemealhearsay.But this interpretation
avoidsan extremelypertinentquestion:why is this we separatedfrom the
they who, still in SectionII of the story,began to feel sorryfor Emily after
Homer'sdisappearance,rememberingher great aunt's madness;the they
who pity her, alone and destituteat her father'sdeath;the they who buried
her fatherquickly?
Upon careful considerationit seems obviousthat, in this we, another
grouphas been introducedinto the personaeof the story-a smallergroup
whose membershave personallyseen the tableau of daughterand father
with upraisedwhip. Whip upraisedagainstwhat? The town and life in
general? Or young men in particular?-youngmen of Emily'sown generation, none of whom "werequite good enoughfor Miss Emily"and who are
"vindicated"(avenged?) by her spinsterhood. It is conceivablethat this
we, in the contextin which it is presented,is the disappointedbut still devoted group of suitorsthat surroundedevery belle of the Southernmyth,
suitorsnot sociallyprominentenoughto be acceptableto the Old Aristocracy
but of a breeding,position,and means superiorto the they-the general
townspeople-whomust reduce Emily from an untouchablemonumentto
an impoverishedpitiablehuman? Is thiswe a selectgroupto whomEmilyis
a "care"(paragraph3) as opposedto the they to whom she is a "duty"(the
older generationwhichbelievesin the protectionof SouthernWomanhood)?
thisis morethanjust a defensiblesupposition.
Entertaining this possibility, and holding in abeyance momentarily the
final intriguingparagraphof SectionII, let us pursuethe pronounshifting
a little further.
SectionIII introducesBarron,the NorthernOutsider,gross, arrogant,
dynamic;and in connectionwith him, againthe we. We saw MissEmily after her illness as girlishand somewhatangelicwith her shorthair;we were
glad she had an interest;we believedshe was fallen.Juxtaposedwith this we
is the they of the older tradition-boundpeople who knew that even grief
couldnot accountfor Emily'slapsewith Homer(the implicationin the light
of the variousreferencesto insanityis, of course,that Emily must be mad)
and who began to say "PoorEmily." And then the they of a youngerand
less aristocraticgroupwho began to whisperaboutEmily and Homer after
the olderpeoplehad set the precedent. Here againis the groupingpreviously mentioned (without, of course, the youngest group which is not yet
and the small, exclusive
grown)-the Old Order,Emily's contemporaries,
groupof we.
Concludingthis same SectionIII is an accurate,knowledgeablerevelationof MissEmilybuyingthe arsenic,a scenedramaticin presentation,without equivocation. What observerwitnessedthat scene? Who remembered
and repeatedthe exactwords? Who could possiblyreportthat when Miss
Emilyopenedthe box of poisonat homeshe foundwrittenon it the notation,
"Forrats"? To explainthis knowledgeas public rumor,commongossip, is
to ignore the care of Faulkneras an artist and to grossly oversimplify
the narrativestructureof this story. Reasonably,only the druggistcould
have knownthe facts of the rat poisonepisodeand it seems obviousthat it
was the druggistwho lookeddown at her and saw her face like a "strained
flag." Now would the druggist,havingtacitly violatedthe law (and even
believingthat Emilywould commitsuicide),2 have made this episodepublic
gossip? If so, he not only indicts himself, but the whole town quite literally connivesat murder. Thus this interpretationseems unlikely. He
might,however,have revealedit confidentiallyto an intimateor two, those
who, like him, "watchedover" (and spied upon) Miss Emily.
With this idea in mind, referback to SectionII which relatesan episode which tookplace two yearsafterthe deathof Emily'sfather,afterher
purchaseof the poison,and a shorttime after the disappearanceof Homer
Barron. Becauseof complaintsaboutthe smell at Emily'shouse,the Board
of Aldermen,"threegraybeardsand one younger man, a memberof the
rising generation,"have met. Subsequentlyfour men skulkedabout her
house, sniffing,sowing lime. In a week or two the smell went away. Interestingquestionsareraisedhere. Firstof all, who are the four men prowling outside Miss Emily'shouse, even breakinginto the cellar to sprinkle
the lime? The Board of Aldermen,spied upon by an outsiderwho later
revealsthe episode? But how would an outsiderknow of the earlierBoard
meetingin suchdetail? Is it justpossiblethatthe youngerman of the Board,
assistedby threecohortswho have been alertedto the situation,acts to forestallfurtherinvestigation?Do we have at least a tenableclue to the ambiguous we when we link this episodewith that of the rat poison? Can we
imagine the rising young aldermanand the druggist (with at least two
who speculate,discussthe eventsof Emily'slife among
others) as conspirators
themselves? At any rate, whatevertheir identity, these four men act to
protectMissEmily. Why? What do these men suspect? And why, "after
a week or two,"does the smell go away? It takesweeks for the smell of a
decomposingbody to dissipate-andwe the readersknow that the lime has
2Notein the light of the rest of this discussion,the implicationsof the druggist'swillingness to let her commitsuicide-or perhapsto suggest by means of his label that the poison
might betterbe used on someoneelse.
never touchedthe sourceof the corruption!What happensto stop the odor
unlessthe body is eithercompletelydestroyedor sealedoff in an airlessroom?
And who sealsit: MissEmilyalertedby the skulkingmen? Cohortsin crime
who advise Miss Emily that somethingmust be done to prevent public
action? Hold these pointsin reservetemporarily.
Now we must look for a momentat the structuraland chronological
significanceof SectionII. As we have alreadydiscovered,in this section
the variousgroupswithin Jeffersonhave been carefully,if obscurely,introduced. But more than this, every majorepisode exceptEmily'sdeath has
also been introduced,merged within a kind of ebbing and flowing continuumof time-a structuraltechniqueessentialto Faulkner'spurpose. Note
that in the firstparagraphwe start with a referenceto a fairly recent occurrence,the attemptto collectEmily'staxes,and shift in the same sentence
to a referenceconcerningthe smell which occurredafter her father'sdeath
and Homer'sdisappearance.Then we slip back to her father'sdeath (interestinglyjuxtaposedby a semicolonto her sweetheart'sgoing away), the
consequentvisit of the ladies, the referenceto the Negro servantwho is
Emily'slone retainer,and from him to the smell again, which is accepted
by the ladiesas conclusiveproofthat no man couldkeep a kitchenproperly.
All of this in ten lines. And from this chronologicaljump-off,we learn of
the secretnight visit by the fourmen.
Then,in the eleventhparagraphof SectionII, we read,'That was when
people had begun to feel really sorryfor her,"rememberinghow insanity
ran in Emily'sfamily. But in the confusingchronologicalsequencejust indicated, to what time period does that sentence refer? Surely not to the
precedingline, "Aftera week or two the smell went away." Does it referto
her father'sdeath? To Homer'sdisappearance?It is impossibleto tell in the
mergingof eventspresentedto our view. But two paragraphslater we are
told aboutEmily'srefusalto admither father'sdeath, and how they, about
to resortto force, were finally permittedby Miss Emily to disposeof the
body. Thenthatcuriouslastparagraphwhichwe wereholdingin abeyance:
We didnotsaythatshewascrazythen. Webelievedshehadto do that. We
all theyoungmenherfatherhaddrivenaway,andwe knewthat
withnothingleft, she wouldhaveto clingto thatwhichhad robbedher, as
Again we carefullyseparatedfrom they. And again the question,to
what period of time does that paragraphrefer? I suggestthat it not only
refersto Emily's attemptto keep her father'sbody, but, in an already establishedpatternof time transformance,
to events followinghis death-the
purchaseof the poison,the disappearanceof Homer,and the development
of the smell. In otherwords, we did not admit that she was crazy thenwhen she keptthe body of her father,when she boughtthe poison;we knew
MARCH 1970
she had to do that-keep her father'sbody, buy the poison. But note the full
implicationsof then and that. When did we say that she was crazy? After
we realizedthe significanceof the smell? When we knew that she had murderedHomer? We knew she had to do that-deny the death of her father,
keep her lover'sbody, her loverwho had robbedher of even her pride (her
fatherhavingdeprivedher of all hope of an acceptableformof love because
of his family pride). In the unfoldinghorrorof these possibilitieslies the
defenseforwhathasbeen criticizedas an unnecessarily
and chronology.Throughthis structureand chronologywith its merging
and confusingof events and participants,Faulknerpermitshis firstperson
narratorto masknot only his identitybut also to concealfromus the knowledge he or ratherthey have concerningEmily'shorriblecrime. This is the
geniusof Faulkner. The clues are all there as early as the second section,
even thoughwe will continuethroughthree moresections,still unawareof
the magnitudeof the horrorunfoldingbeforeus.
In SectionIV, the mergingof time and events continues. Following
the purchaseof the poison,"we all said" (note the clue here that the select
we groupis largerthan the two alreadyidentified) that Emily would kill
herself"andthatwould be the best thing".(Thatis, the traditionof aristocratic honormustnot be violated.) Time then telescopesto the whole affairbetween Emily and Homer. The pronounsin this sectionare much less confusing. The whole town knows about the affair;everyonesees Emily and
Homer. The minoritywe becomesmore or less a part of the generalwe,
and all of us side with MissEmily againstthe outsideGriersonswho "were
even moreGriersonthan MissEmilyhad ever been." And then Homerdisappears after having been seen entering the kitchen door at dusk-the
front door is closed and Miss Emily does not appearon the street for six
months. Thenwhen we next see her, she has grownfat and gray;her front
doorremainsclosedfor someyearsuntil she opensit to give paintinglessons
to a few of hercontemporaries
andtheirchildren. (Chronologically,
thirty-twowhen Homerdisappears,forty-ishwhen she fits up
her studio.)
Then, the "newergeneration"-asecond generationfrom Emily-succeeds as the "spiritof the town,"a generationto whom Emily is neither
nor "duty"and certainlynot "care"in the sense of any kind of
attentionor personalinvolvement,and so the frontdoor closes irrevocably.
Whenthe town gets free postaldelivery(symbolicof the new order), Emily
will not let them attachthe numbersand mailboxabove her door. Years
pass as we watchher Negrogrow older. Now we-not they-send her a tax
noticeeach December. With the passageof years,only Emily, symbolicof
the indomitablebut dying Old Southin all its decadence,pride, refusalto
admitthe changingorder,remainsdistinguishable,definable. We have admitted the change, acceptedit, merged into it, become a part of the they.
Only Emily "passedfromgenerationto generation-dear[to the old order],
inescapable[to her contemporary
protectors],impervious[to the new order],
tranquil[in her madness],and perverse[turnedto the illusorypast instead
of reality]." And so she dies, alone, scarcely remembered,"in the house
filledwith dustand shadows..."
And with her death, the town gathers. The Negro attendantadmits
the first visitorsand then, knowingthe horriblesecretof that upper room,
walks out of the house and disappearsforever. The female cousinsarrive.
The very old men, last of the GreatConfederacy,gatherto pay honorto a
myth of the past, convincingthemselvesthat they had danced with and
courtedEmily,althoughshe had in realitybelongedto a youngergeneration.
They reminisce,"confusingtime with its mathematicalprogression,as the
old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishingroad,but, instead,a huge
meadow . . . " (Note that in these lines Faulknerhas clearlyrevealedhis
structuralintent and his narrativesecret.) Emily lies beneath a mass of
"boughtflowers,"not flowersgatheredby caringhands from lovinglytended gardens,but '"boughtflowers"tendered by a crass, unknowing,uncaring generation. Symbolically,the New South has triumphed.
But in the midst of this triumph,once more, clearly and finally, the
emergenceof that separatewe. "Alreadywe knew that therewas one room
in that regionabove stairswhich no one had seen in forty years and which
would have to be forced." The implicationshere are overwhelming. We
knewwhatwas in thatroom;we had knownit for fortyyears! Emily died at
seventy-four;her fatherhad died when she was approximatelythirty-oneor
thirty-two;Homerhad disappearedtwo yearslater. And someonehad seen
that roomafterhis death,forty years earlier,or had suspectedwhat it contained. Now the readerunderstandsclearlywhat has been suggestedearlier
-that the roomhad been sealedshortlyafterdecompositionof Homer'sbody
had begun, eitherby Miss Emily herself or by accomplicesafter-the-fact.3
Someonehad lockedthat door;someonehad disposedof the key so that they
would have to break down the door after Miss Emily was decentlyin the
ground. Now if Miss Emily had lockedthe doorherselfand thrownaway
the key, how do we know that the roommust be forced;how do we know
that no one has seen that roomin forty years? Have not we, knowingher
horriblecrime, concurringin it, even abetting it, stood guard, protected,
cherishedthesemanyyearsthis putrescentsymbolof a way of life long dead,
almostforgotten? Do we, almostas lovers,offerthis last appallingact of devotion-the keepingof her ghastlysecret-as a final tribute,as our "rosefor
Emily"? A rosein sharp,poignant,horriblecontrastto the "boughtflowers"
of a new generation? In other words, as alien outside forces seemingly
triumphover Emily in death,have not we, in reality,finallycuckoldedthey
3Thiswriter'smotherrecallsclearly, as a child in the South, the sealing up of a roomin
which a sister had died of diphtheria.She remembersthat it was a time-consumingand
difficulttask for her father and believes it would have been impossiblefor the strength
of her mother.
in the keeping of our macabre secret? And in preserving-or using-Emily,4
we have kept untarnished the honor and myth of the South!
Now, in this last act of the drama, as they force the door, we note the remembered (or anticipated) details of the room, almost as though a camera
slowly moved from point to point. The violence of the falling door seems
to fill the room with dust. The smell of the tomb pervades the bridal room,
lying upon the faded rose of the bed curtains, the rose-shaded lights, the
tarnished silver of the toilet articles, the men's clothes. And then the body.
Rotting, grimacing, "cuckolded"by death (as well as by aged lovers?) lies
Homer Barron. No shock, no surprise as we view the scene, just careful attention to every detail. And then, "one of us" lifts something from the pillow,
a long strand of Emily's iron-gray hair.
Now, upon the threshold of that room and from the obscuritiesand complexities of structure and personae, the truth of time and circumstance
emerges for the reader. From that room the odor of death and corruption
assaults our senses and we, the readers, know the final horror. The guilt
of a crazed old lady is clear, horrible but comprehensible in the light of her
loss, her insanity. But the odor of the "roseof love" proffered Emily by those
aged lovers, sickens, suffocates, is beyond our comprehension. The composite we looms monstrous,corrupt. And through that monstrouswe, Faulkner offers us a frightening comment on the moral fabric of the Southern social
For thus he tells us that the immediate post-war remnant of the Old
Southern hierarchy-symbolized in the person of Emily-lies dead, buried,
even pardoned in the light of her heritage, her madness, her incorruptible
endurance. But another remnant of this Old South-symbolized in the persons of the anonymous ancient suitors-lives on, linked only tenuously and
superficially to that now-dead, indomitable aristocracy. Inferior in every
way to the clans of Sartoris and Grierson (perhaps even to the minor aristocracy of Barrons), this order yet lusts and covets consummation. Torn
between envy and revulsion, love and hate, it protects and extends the myth
of its idol. Robbed of everything else, even as Emily had been robbed, it
clings to the rotting body of the loved one-just as Emily had clung to the
dead body of her father (the past) and the rotted body of her lover (the
present and future)-cherishing it even as it putrefies and maddens before
its eyes, even as it dies.
Insidious, monstrous, unforgivably corrupt, this sub-culture merges
into the innocuous they of respectability and modernity. In the form of
Emily's secret protectors, sane, deliberate, knowing, this group stands selfrighteously and horribly amid the final debacle, proffering to Emily-at once
its victim and its care-its loathsome rose of love.
4See footnote 2 above
To thosewho respondto the thesisof this paperwith the question,"But
how do you explainthe gray hair on the pillow?"may I point out that forty
yearsof criticalattentionhas not been able to settle this problem. Nor can
this question,in the contextof the story,everbe fully clarified.
However, three specificpointscan be made. First of all, this critical
questionof the gray hair has servedas a red herringfor Faulknerthrough
the years, almostcompletelydivertingattentionfrom the real problemof
the story, the narrativefocus. Secondly, we can point out that there is
one obvious point of confusionin the critical studiesin relation to
the time at which Miss Emily'shair turned gray. This error is rooted
in Section IV of the story, after Homer had been admitted at dusk
and MissEmily disappearsfrompublic view for "almostsix months." There
follows anothersentenceand then the next paragraphbegins,
Whenwe nextsawMissEmily,shehadgrownfat andherhairwasturning
gray. Duringthe nextfew yearsit grewgrayerandgrayeruntilit obtained
an evenpepper-and-salt
irongray,whenit ceasedturning. Up to the day
of herdeathat seventy-four
it wasstillthatvigorousiron-gray
Criticshave confusedMissEmily'sappearanceafterthe six-monthinterval with the time when we (in the contextof this paper'sthesis) next saw
her. Thereis no way of absolutelyequatingthe referencesnor of accurately
pin-pointinghow long afterHomer'sdeathEmily'shairbegan to turn. We
can say, however,thatat sometime subsequentto the sealingup of the room
and afterthe smell of the corpsehad dissipated,Emily had found a way to
enter the room and had lain-whether briefly or often we cannot know
(because the narratorcannotknow!)-beside the corpse. When that room
is entered,the only thing seeminglyunanticipatedby the narrator-group
that long strand of iron-grayhair which one of us lifts from the pillow.
Thus,carryingmy thesisto its furthestconclusion:just as we (the Old
South) have cuckoldedthey (the new), triumphingover them in this moment of death, so has Emily ultimatelycuckoldedus (the old lovers) and
Faulkner'stheme is broughtfull circle. We, the readers,are left in complete knowledgethat Emily'sSouth,though dead and buried and forgiven,
has left its horrorimprintedforeveron the structureand in the personsof
the present.
1863 (ca.) Emily bom.
Emily'sfather dies. (Emilyis just past thirty.)
Taxesare remittedby ColonelSartorisretroactiveto his death. (Probably a time lapse of approximatelya year for tax notices.)
Homer disappears,the smell develops. Emily is past thirty, her
fatherhas been dead two years. Emily is not seen on the streetsfor
almost six months. Contraryto generalcriticism,taken contextually
one cannotassumedefinitelythat Emily was turninggray when she
appearedafter six months. Althoughthe paragraphfollowing this
referenceto the six-monthtime lapse begins, "When we next saw
Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turninggray,"we
have no way of knowingwhethera furthertime lapse is involved or
N.B.: The room must have been sealed almost immediatelyfollowing the sprinklingof the lime. No lime ever touchesthe body and the
smell of a rottingcorpselingersfor weeks!
Emily is about forty when she begins to give china-paintinglessons.
This would be one of the few genteel avenuesof incomefor a destitute 'lady" of her time.
Colonel Sartorisdies about this time. This would account for the
falling off of her pupils-he can no longer influencehis childrenand
friendsto subsidizeMiss Emily, just as he will no longer be able to
controlthe matterof her taxes.
A second Board of Aldermencalls upon her personallyabout her
taxes. This is thirty years after their fathers had dealt with the
problemof the smell (approx.1925) or eight to ten years after she
ceased giving paintinglessons (approx.1920). Emily would be between fifty-sevenand sixty-two.
1937 (ca.) Emily dies. Althoughthe narratortells us that no one had entered
her house for at least ten years, since no mention is made of any
specificvisit, we might assumethat in the chronologyof the seventyfour years of Emily'slife and the forty-fouryearsencompassedsince
her father'sdeath some discrepancyof time is to be expected-especiallywhen one recognizesthe secret of the narrator-andthat the
visit by the tax collectorswas the last time her doorswere opened.
(CA.) 1830-1936
War (The proud, indomitableautocracy
with its belief in "itsflowerof SouthernWomanhood";those to whom Emily
is "a duty")
Judge Stevens
The "veryold men"in their Confederateuniformsat the funeral
They who know that even grief cannot account for Emily's lapse with
II. POST-WARGENERATION (those to whom Emily is "a care")
A. Aristocraticdespendantsof Old Aristocracy
B. Less sociallyacceptablebut "spiritualheirs"of the Old South
1. The they "whomeet aboutthe smell"
(a) three old graybeards(Judge Stevens)
(b) one youngerman, a memberof the risinggeneration
2. The they who begin to whisperaboutEmily and Homerafter the older
people set the precedent
3. The "narrativewe," obviouslya chronologicalif not social peer group
(a) we see Emily and her fatheras a tableau-note sexualovertones of that scene
(b) we are "vindicated"when she is not marriedat 30
(c) we are there at her death and when the roomis opened
(d) we (one of us) lift the hair from the pillow
C. The Negro servant
A young male Negro who serves Miss Emily until her death at 74,
when he, "a dodderingold man,"disappears.He obviouslyknows the
horridsecret,but we can forgivehim for not betrayinghis mistressin
the traditionof the old Negro servitor-justas we can forgive her in
the knowledge of her madness. But, can he be the only one who
knowsthe horrorof that upstairsroom?
III. A NEWER RISING GENERATION (Those to whom Emily is "a tradition")
A. They mailedher tax noticesbut treatedher respectfully,and Emily "vanquished them" when they called on her (again, an overlapping age
B. The daughtersand granddaughtersof Colonel Sartoris'contemporaries
who "weresent"to her as paintingpupils
IV. A NEWER SECOND GENERATION (Those to whom Emily is neither
duty nor traditionnor care)
A. They become the backboneand spiritof the town (Section IV)
B. The granddaughters(See III-B above) who grow up and do not send
their childrento her
C. They try to fastenthe numbersoverher door and attacha mailboxto it
D. They send "bought"flowers (not carefullynurtured,garden-grownflowers)
A sub-culturewe, which is linked tenuouslyand superficiallyto the Old
Aristocracy;which is a productof the Post-WarGeneration;which becomes a part of the Newer RisingGeneration,which, in turn, ultimately
mergeswith the Newer SecondGenerationto become the innocuousthey
of respectabilityand modernity. This we now sends her tax notices in
the name of civic duty even as we had dutifullycompoundedher crime
in the name of Southernhonor.
Mrs. Nebeker (B.A., M.A., Arizona State University) teaches English at
Arizona State University. She served as Secretary-Treasurerof the American
Association of University Professors Conference in 1966-67. Her publications include an article titled "A Pragmatic Look at Linguistic Juncture"
(Arizona English Bulletin, May 1964). She also has an article titled "A Bit
of Heresy " in a book scheduled to appear this year, Improving College and
University Teaching (Oregon State University Press).
Emily's Rose of Love: A Postscript
Author(s): Helen E. Nebeker
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, Vol. 24, No. 4
(Dec., 1970), pp. 190-191
Published by: Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1346728 .
Accessed: 12/01/2012 04:18
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(ProfessorNebeker offers the following emendationto her earlier article,
"Emily'sRose of Love,"which appearedin the March,1970 issue of the
Regardingmy article,"Emily'sRoseof Love: ThematicImplicationsof
Point of View in Faulkner's'A Rose for Emily,'" March 1970, I must
submit,with an admixtureof delight at discoveryand chagrinat original
obtuseness,a slight emendationin the chronologyofferedat the end of the
article,pp. 11-12. This correctioneliminatesthe only real discrepancyin
the time sequence-that is, that the date of Emily's death, approximately
1937,is some sevenyearsafterthe dateof the firstpublicationof the storyin
1930. I, as well as other critics,have passedover this discrepancyas part
of the license permittedany story-teller,whetherFaulkneror his narrator.
Closercontextualanalysisdiscloses,however,that we need not grantFaulkner even this much license in this carefullyconstructedstory. The fact
is that we err in assumingthat the date of 1894, mentionedso casuallyin
the thirdparagraphof the story,refersto the date of the death of Emily's
father,who died, we know, when Emily was about thirty. It simply does
not! Ratherit specificallyrefersto the date when ColonelSartoris"remitted
her taxes, the dispensationdating from the death of her father on into
perpetuity."That the death and the remissionof taxes are not coincident
becomesobviousin SectionIV when we are told in the seventhparagraph
thatat the age of aboutforty,for six or seven years,Emily gave china-painting lessonsto the daughtersand granddaughtersof Colonel Sartoriswho
"weresent to her with the same regularityand in the same spiritthat they
were sent to churchon Sundaywith a twenty-five-centpiece for the collectionplate." The following-and last-line of the paragraphreads:"Meanwhile [italicsadded] her taxeshad been remitted." Since "meanwhile"by
definitionmeans"in or duringthe interveningtime"or "atthe same time,"
the date of 1894 obviouslyrefersto thatperiodwhen Emily is in her forties
and so destitute,having been left nothingby her fatherbut the house, that
she must take in day-pupils.At this time, ColonelSartoris,who could not
insult a lady by offeringher charity,abrogatesher taxes which have undoubtedlybeen accruingfor some ten years.
Now, using 1894 as a date when Emily is in her forties,her birth date
must be advancedto approximately1854 and all other dates changed accordingly. Emily died around1928 and Faulkner'snarratoris still relating
his shockingstory two years later in generalaccord with the publication
date, not from some point in the future. In view of this basic correction,I
offer the following amendedchronology:
1854 (ca.) Emily is bom.
Emily's father dies.
Homerdisappears;the smelldevelops; the roomis sealed.
Emily gives paintinglessons.Duringthis time, ColonelSartoris
remitsher taxes.
The city fatherscall on her personallyabout her taxes, thirty
years after their fathers had dealt with the problem of the
smell (1886). "ColonelSartorishad been dead almost ten
years." (Section I)
1928 (ca.) Emily dies. No one has seen the inside of the house for at
least ten years. (Section I)
Story written and published in 1930. Section I clearly indicates that Emily had died sometimepreviousto the time of
As newly elected Executive Secretary of the RMMLA I cannot appropriately begin my term of office without expressing my deep appreciation for
the efforts of those who have preceded me. I am particularly grateful to
Professors Henry Pettit and Edward Nolan; their past aid has helped me
immeasurably during my interim appointment and their future counsel will
be no less welcome and valuable.
In past years the RMMLA has developed from a small and relatively informal organization into an association which-both in size and diversityhas come to represent fully the interests of the entire Rocky Mountain area;
its Bulletin has matured into a significant journal of scholarly and professional interest; and its annual meeting has grown into a forum for the interchange of scholarly ideas, pedagogical techniques, and professional information. I fervently hope that the RMMLA will continue to thrive and prosper
in the future as it has in the past.
In a sense, however, our past successes may prove to be a danger to our
future development. For nothing would be easier than to rest on our laurels,
to point with justifiable pride to our accomplishments while ignoring the
demands the future will place upon us. We must remember that the essence
of growth is continual change, and as our organization grows larger in size
it must remain aware of the need for constant flexibility. An old but nonetheless apt illustration is the dinosaur, whose increase in size was concomitant
with his inability to adapt to changing times.
The simple growth of our organization can perhaps become almost automatic, but its development cannot. Organizational change depends upon a
dialogue between the membership and their elected officers. May I urge you
all to prevent any breakdown in this dialogue.
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