There are popular sayings that goes “love moves in mysterious ways” and “love makes people crazy.” The amalgam of those sayings would somehow serve as a rough description of William Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily.” Since its publication, the story still captures the imagination of many present-day readers—although, in a disturbing way.
The title is deceptively, and ingeniously for that matter, designed to make the story seem as a love story. It is important to note that a rose is a generally accepted symbolism for love. However, the story begins with the death of the protagonist. Actually, there are many points in the story that would lead the readers to the conclusion that Faulkner’s story is far from a love story.
This reading will be standing beside the argument that “A Rose for Emily” is a love story that presents to the readers love in an unfamiliar form. Faulkner exquisitely described how Emily is madly in love with Homer. She even dreams of being married to him someday. Faulkner’s details resemble a layout of a typical love story. However, all of those beautiful renditions of Emily’s love are just diversions to the author’s twists.
When Emily mentioned that she wants to be married to Homer, he replied that “he was not a marrying man” (366). The reader could almost picture Emily as a rose whose petals are torn by the sharp gust of wind of Homer’s subtle rejection. This particular event of her life had significantly contributed to her impending insanity. And because Emily loves Homer so much, Emily had devised a plan to keep him beside her.
She had poisoned Homer, paralyzing him for a moment, and then for eternity. She then set Homer’s lifeless body in her bed, then slept with him—in every context of the word slept. Emily’s version of love could be described as unconventional. The story begins describing how the townspeople of Jefferson (Faulkner’s fictional city) treated her “…a sort of fallen monument” (Faulkner 5). Even though the townspeople treat Emily in a revered manner, it would be arguable that they have love for her. In the first part, Emily is already dead and her pitiful yet gruesome background would be unfolded as the plot progresses.
A safer claim to make about the townspeople treatment to Emily is that they pity her at the same time disgusted by her life, or more particularly, her love life. The shocking ending, considered a classic, reveals to the readers that Emily had murdered the one she truly loves, Homer Barron. It is just understandable that the townspeople of Jefferson and the readers (of the real world) would raise the question: could this be considered love? If we would set aside the conventional notions of love (like couples promising to each other eternity, sincerely caring for one another, a mutual understanding, etc.),
Emily’s version of love would certainly be dismissed. However, we could still interpret Emily’s actions as out of love, but to put it more succinctly, it should be categorized as unrequited love. It should not be disputed anymore that anyone is capable love, even those with hints of insanity. Moreover, it is a general notion that a person who loves someone needs some kind of returned love.
And if love is unrequited, the most likely effect on the unrequited lover would be a seemingly incurable misery. Emily’s murder of Homer is oftentimes interpreted as an act of desperation. On the other hand, it could also regarded as an reaction to the subliminal messages of her love and passion for Homer. As we know of love, through literature and real life, it could paint in our minds illusions of being easily loved back.
Emily may have been genuinely convinced that she would someday marry Homer and that they would spend eternity in each other’s arms. The living Homer had rejected her proposal, she may have immediately though that the dead Homer may compromise. Moreover, she had set the dead body in a bed, a symbolism for marriage. In addition, it is implied that she had slept with the dead body of Homer.
It is important to consider that the context of the story is a time period where the people are mostly conservatives, especially the aristocrats like Emily’s family. It could be interpreted that she did not slept with the body out of mere lust, it could be something close to being love itself. Emily’s life could be considered lacking love. The title, “A Rose for Emily”, suggests that she desperately needs to be loved.
She loved her aristocratic lifestyle and her father who provides it for her. But when her father had passed away, she may have felt that all she loved had gone to grave with her father, “…being left alone and a pauper, she had become humanized” (366). Considering her mental state, she had found love in Homer, he does not want to be with her, it is just understandable that she would do anything to be with the one she loves.
After all, the topic at hand is love, a term and a concept with no satisfying definition. Even science admits that love is more than just chemical reactions. If we would delve further in this attempt to understand love, we might just end up mad like Emily.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. An Introduction to Literature. Ed. Joseph Terry. New York: Longman, 2001