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What is the conflict in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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alelozano97 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 20, 2013 at 5:52 AM via web

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What is the conflict in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 21, 2013 at 4:24 PM (Answer #1)

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In "A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, the protagonist lives a solitary existence.  There were many things that caused Emily Grierson to be alone most of her life.  Miss Emily was a product of her environment.

In literature, the conflict moves the story forward.  It is what the protagonist must face and hopefully defeat if the story is to end in his/her favor.  Emily lived in a society that found her interesting but unacceptable.

What creates Emily’s conflict with society?

Her father demanded Emily’s full attention as his companion.  Because he refused to allow her to have suitors, he forever doomed her to a solitary life.  By the time that he died and she was able to have “gentleman callers,” Emily was past her prime.  There were no men to call on her.

Emily would not allow the help of outsiders, particularly when her father died.  Acting in a peculiar manner, Emily refused to let them take the body for three days.  She did not accept their condolences and shut herself away for several months. 

Society observes Emily rather than intercedes or interacts to help her.  They see the things that happen to her and gossip, make judgments, and sit back and wait.  They know about the things in the upstairs room but do nothing. As the narrator tells the reader, they were waiting for her to die.

Insanity had previously shown its ugly head before in her family. 

That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her. People in our town, remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last, believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were.  So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized.

The townspeople excused her behavior because they thought that she was crazy.  Sadly, no one in town helped her. 

The new generation did not understand the Old South’s genteel life in which Emily had been raised.  In the past times, women were venerated, petted, and idealized.  Doing menial labor or engaging in business was considered improper for a lady.  Colonel Sartoris took care of Emily’s taxes because he knew that she could not afford to pay them. 

In the last years of her life, the new council harassed Emily about her taxes.  They bombarded her with letters and then a meeting.  At the meeting, Emily told them that she had no taxes since the colonel who had been dead for many years took care of them for her.  This should have been a sign as to her mental state.

Clearly, Emily Grierson’s conflict with society was only resolved by her death.

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