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The theme of death and its perception by society is not an easy one to explore in the way William Faulkner does in his short story “Rose for Emily”. In this piece of writing, the death of an elderly woman plays a role of an indicator that reveals her eccentric personality and her desire to take control of other people’s lives that lead her to insanity. The author conveys an idea that life is ever changing, and that every attempt to make it static will result in death, either physical or a spiritual one.
The story begins with an announcement that Emily Grierson is dead, so the whole town gathers at her funeral. The woman belonged to one of the oldest and most respectable families in the communities, though her reputation was controversial and her personal story full of mysteries. Her father once donated a neat sum to the town’s budget, so Mayor Sartoris freed her from paying taxes as a sign of gratitude. Although new authorities have tried not once to renew legal issues with taxes, Emily refused to do this. Moreover, she refused to believe that Colonel Sartoris had been dead for ten years when she was told about the fact.
This is the first sign of Emily’s fixating on the past and her reluctance to accept any changes. Further on in the story, it is made clear that she goes insane when trying hard to control thing and make them remain the same. This is not love for stability but obsession with her own influence that she has on other people. When her father dies, she keeps his body in the house for several days hiding it and refusing to bury it. Only after the neighbor’s noticing the order of decay, she is forced to confess of the fact and give her approval for burying.
In the same way, when she had an affair with Homer Barron, she could not stand the idea that this relationship would end one day, so she poisoned him and kept his body for many years in a secret room. This fact is revealed only after her death, when it is clear that she slept in the same bed with his dead body. The community suspects something when Homer disappears, but no one dares deal with Emily, even knowing that she bought poison for rats.
Although the story looks like a gothic writing in many ways, it has a deeper symbolism underlying the plot. Emily who is depicted as a wax doll, hardly reminiscent of a living woman, can actually be treated as a symbol of death. She tries to keep dead people beside her, but she is dead spiritually because she has lost a touch with life. Killing her lover and keeping his dead body is deeply symbolic and reveals the actual scheme of people’s relations with their beloved ones. Instead of giving freedom to the one they love, they try to own them in the way Emily tries to own Barron. And even when love is dead, people tend to keep its “dead body” refusing to let it go.
Overall, Faulkner’s story has several layers of meaning, which is typical for modernist and postmodern literature. One aspect about the story is contrasting change against false stability with the author’s implication that it is impossible to freeze life and still keep it alive. Another aspect is the idea of freedom and ownership in relationships, which make a person face a choice between life and death. Finally, the author explores the actual theme of death and dying, and the feelings that that they evoke in people and community.
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