Emily Grierson in ‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner

Thesis: William Faulkner illuminates the relations between society and Emily, a typical outsider, a lonely isolated person, whose feelings are hidden behind the walls of her house, while all the connections with the surrounding world are lost and the picture of life distorted.

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Emily Grierson is the main character of the short story A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. Describing Emily’s life through the eyes of the inhabitants of the town, the author illuminates the relations between the society and a typical outsider, a lonely isolated person, whose feelings are hidden behind the walls of her house, while all the connections with the surrounding world are lost and the picture of life distorted.

Public opinion in the small towns is expected to know everything about everybody, but the plot of the short story demonstrates how distorted this view may appear to be and what skeletons may be hidden in some citizens’ wardrobes. The first adjective characterizing Emily is introverted. The woman is an outsider, isolated in her house; she demonstrates no interest in the events in the town or in the world. Emily is concentrated on her inner world, her feelings and dreams; her loneliness seems not to bother her and does not cause her anxiety, as she is not aimed at getting in contact with the other inhabitants of the town but for Homer Barron.

The town watches her every step and interprets it in accordance with the picture of the life of the average citizen. The people express the feelings that they are expected to express, they are sorry for the girl when her father dies and the man does not want to marry her, they are glad when they think that the young couple is going to marry.

“Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Faulkner 14). Knowing Emily since the day of her birth, being aware of her family and inheritance, the town people do not try to know the inner emotions of the woman and her real inclinations, they consider her to be a part of the town tradition, take her lonely existence for granted and do not try to change the situation.

Getting accustomed to her social role of an outsider, Emily manifests no displeasure as to the existing state of affairs. The next adjective characterizing the woman is indifferent, as her connection with the world is so weak, that she does not resemble a human. Observing her facial expression the citizens compare it to a monument, “She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.

Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough” (Faulkner 22). Not expressing the feelings, which could be understood by the other, Emily scares the surrounding with her indifference, nobody wants to approach her. Living the life of her emotions, the main character does not communicate with the Negro, working at her house, not using the last opportunity for communication. Being afraid of everything not matching the accustomed picture of life, the townspeople do not understand the reasons for Emily’s indifference and do not try to approach her.

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Every personality is influenced by numerous factors, and Emily is influenced by her inheritance, life circumstances and her traits of character. The third word characterizing Emily is misbalanced. The bad inheritance and father’s oppression result in her distorted picture of life and inability to be happy. Society makes its contribution to Emily’s personality, taking her isolation for granted and not attempting to help the woman.

The people of the town watch the events of her life, which even arouse certain feelings in them, but do not try to participate or influence the woman’s destiny. Hiding Homer’s dead body in her room for years, Emily does not realize what she is doing, as it is the only way for her to control the situation. In fact, it is only Emily’s body that is alive, while her soul seems to be dead. Emily’s inheritance, life circumstances and the indifference of the society misbalanced her personality and distorted her picture of life.

Illuminating the topics of alienation, isolation and social indifference, the author describes the reasons for Emily’s distorted perception of the surrounding world and the pre-conditions for her crime and tragedy.


Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Perfection Learning, 2007: 128.

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