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In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily, the plot, of course, is gothic fiction: a decaying mansion, a mysteriously silent servant, a corpse, necrophilia. And one doesn’t want to discard the plot in a search for what it symbolizes, but it is also clear that the story is not only “about” Emily Grierson but also about the South’s pride in its past (including its Emily-like effort to hold on to what is dead) and the guilt as well as the grandeur of the past.
While the story centers on Miss Emily’s character, a proper analysis entails the narrator. Sometimes he seems to be an innocent eye, a recorder of a story whose implications escape him. Sometimes he seems to be coarse. He mentions “old lady Wyatt, the crazy woman,” he talks easily of “niggers,” and he confesses that because he and other townspeople felt that Miss Emily’s family “held themselves a little too high for what they really were,” the townspeople “were not pleased exactly, but vindicated” when at thirty she was still unmarried. But if his feelings are those of common humanity (e.g., racist and smug), he at least knows what these feelings are and thus helps us to know ourselves. We therefore pay him respectful attention, and we notice that on the whole he is compassionate (note especially his sympathetic understanding of Miss Emily’s insistence for three days that her father is not dead).
True, Miss Emily earns our respect by her aloofness and her strength of purpose (e.g., when she publicly appears in the buggy with Homer Barron, and when she cows the druggist and the alderman), but if we speak of her aloofness and her strength of purpose rather than of her arrogance and madness, it is because the narrator’s imaginative sympathy guides us. And the narrator is the key to the theme: One's excessive pride in the past can prevent someone from living well in the present.
In the story Faulkner also emphasizes Miss Emily’s attempts to hold on to the past: her insistence, for example, that her father is not dead, and that she has no taxes to pay.
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