How does the author use the setting as a symbol in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" is set in the South, in a small town that changes slowly. The occupants are so caught up in the past that they fail to see the truth of what occurs within Miss Emily's home through the course of the story.

The town of Jefferson has seen better times. With the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, the economy has suffered badly. When Northerners called carpetbaggers descended on the South, the state of the economy was further destroyed. Perhaps the greatest difficulty with Jefferson, as with other parts of the South, may lie in its propensity to remain in the past.

One reason that the South was slow to change was because of the pervading adherence to a code of chivalry—honorable and gentlemanly behavior. For example, when a terrible smell permeates the area surrounding Miss Emily's home and neighbors demand that something be done. When one man suggests they tell Miss Emily to clean up the smell, Judge Stevens replies:

Dammit, sir...will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?

Because Jefferson's society is so slow to welcome change, time is an especially important element in Faulkner's story. Time is also essential to the character of Miss Emily, who could never have survived or kept her life so much like it was when she was a young woman had she lived in the North where things move more swiftly. More than anything, the seemingly slow passage of time in Jefferson accounts for the ability for Miss Emily Grierson to spend so much time in the past, and the community's willingness to allow her to remain relatively undisturbed. The setting of the story—the slow-moving, old-fashioned, chivalric South—is the element that allows Miss Emily and the townspeople to remain steeped in the past.

They make excuses when Miss Emily behaves strangely after her father's death. While they believe her distant relatives should come to help Miss Emily in her time of difficulty, the townspeople are happy to see the outsiders leave. When Miss Emily begins to spend time with Homer Baron, a Yankee, the women whisper about Miss Emily's fall from grace, but attribute it to being from a peculiar, old family. When Homer disappears, there is no more to gossip about and they forget him and his association with Miss Emily. Colonel Sartoris originally told Miss Emily she was not required to pay taxes. Letters were sent repeatedly, but it is many years before the men actually visit Miss Emily's home to collect the money owed. And as things move so slowly between Miss Emily and Jefferson, it is not until Miss Emily has died that members of the community enter her home and find the room where she has been living—if only in her mind—amid the glory days of her youth...sleeping next to the corpse of her dead lover, who she poisoned in her home and left in the position of a groom awaiting his bride.

The man himself lay in the bed.

For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love...had cuckolded him.

Read the study guide:
A Rose for Emily

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