Why did William Faulkner write the story "A Rose for Emily"?
David Minter's book William Faulkner: His Life and Work (1980) offers very interesting insight on the life of author William Faulkner, particularly on how the stories he heard in his youth directly affected his own choices, in terms of themes and writing styles.
As a young man, Faulkner grew up consistently listening to tales of the Civil War, directly from veterans themselves, including stories of his father and grandfather. He also would hear these stories in the town square of Oxford in Yoknapatawpha County, and even from his mammy, Miss Caroline, who would be his watchful guardian since he was a small child. Mammy Caroline, an ex-slave, was not just in charge of William, but she was also his caregiver, and much like a second mother to him, as well.
This being said, Southern legends made a huge mark in the overall psyche of Faulkner, who was, by nature, already a fantastic observer of history, nature, and art. The imagery of the once-almighty South falling apart under the attacks of the unlikable Yankees was one which reigned supreme among the minds of those who participated actively in the Civil War, and the generations which immediately followed. Even today there is a particular respect rendered to the history of the Confederacy, despite of the controversy caused by the use of the flag and other symbols related to it.
Back to the story, Faulkner himself had a lot to say about the character of Emily, specifically
...Here was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute…to a woman you would hand a rose.
The tragedy is not just that of Emily's alone. It is the tragedy of those who feel just like her: vulnerable, scared, alone, and unable to shift toward the present.
From a social and historical perspective, which permeates the story, Faulkner also warns those who cannot move away from the past to look at Emily and see what the dangers are. Faulkner surely noted that the stories of the South seem to be stuck in time; as if the Southerners forget what took place, they will feel like the accomplices of the invaders. However, all that is left of those who refuse to change, are the mere shells of what once was great, and now is no longer. Like Emily, those who refuse to move on become "fallen monuments", which later on become "eyesores among eyesores".
Therefore, the story is written as a cautionary tale on the dangers of rejecting the reality of change. It is also written as a way to honor those who are stuck in that vicious cycle, against their will, and seem unable to be set free.
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