The Importance of Setting on “a Rose for Emily”
Faulkner’s details about setting and atmosphere give the reader background as to the values and beliefs of the characters, helping the reader to understand the motivations, actions and reactions of Miss Emily and the rest of the town, and changing the mood or tone in the story. The setting in “A Rose for Emily” is Faulkner’s Jefferson, a small town in the deep south of the United States. Faulkner’s use of this particular time-period of post-civil War is successful in giving the reader an understanding to the values and beliefs of the characters in the story.
The town of Jefferson is a fallen legacy. The ranked regime and class system of the Griersons where by order of the mayor- Colonel Sartoris, a Negro woman could not even walk the street without an apron. Grierson residence had changed into a place where even the street on which Miss Emily lived, that had once been the most select, had now been encroached and obliterated, her house an eyesore among eyesores. Both the town and Miss Emily herself, now looked upon Emily as the only remnant of that greater time.
This fact gives the reader an understanding of the mindset of the town, who is narrating Miss Emily’s story to us in a form resembling a gossip circle, where stories of various townspeople are pieced together and of Miss Emily, the protagonist who lived alone except for her lone servant. The actions of Miss Emily range from eccentric to absurd but it is the readers understanding of the setting that keep the story believable. Miss Emily becomes reclusive and withdrawn after the death of her father and the distancing from Homer Barron.
It is also revealed at the end of the story that she went as far as poisoning Homer, keeping his dead body in his house, and sleeping next to him as well. She is doing what she feels necessary in response to the pressure placed on her by the town. She is still trying to maintain the role of the southern women, dignified and proper while struggling with all the other issues in her life and dealing with the madness that is said to run in her family. She is also not accepting of the changing times and flat out refuses to change with them.
Faulkner’s setting also helps the reader understand the mentality and actions of the town. The townspeople seem fascinated with Miss Emily as a remnant of an older time. They have put her in a special position among the others and while they have not maintained any direct contact with her, they are still curious even after her death about her mystery. This could be attributed to the fact that as the times are changing, they need someone to uphold their southern pride and as she is a Grierson, she is their only link to that past.
They even take it upon themselves to try to correct her mistakes by calling on her cousins while she was involved with Homer. They felt that she was setting a bad example and because she was supposed to be of a higher class and symbolize morals and decency in the changing south they felt that they had to do something to restore her moral standing for her. Besides helping the reader understand the motivations and events in the story, the setting also changed the tone of the story. Faulkner opens his story by expressing the amount of respect that is shown at Miss Emily’s funeral.
It is said that the entire town attended this event, but also that some only showed up to see what the inside of her house looked like because no one had been inside in over ten years. He explains this to show the mysterious appeal of Miss Emily. By explaining the mystery in Miss Emily, he conveys a dark tone that baffles the audience. The descriptions that Faulkner gave and the images he conjured gave the story a very gothic feel to it. The image of the Grierson place with its out of date structure and furnishings, and of Miss Emily herself as a old woman resembling death itself also helped to create a clear picture of an old run down town.
The physical setting was parallel to the social change that was taking place at the time and could be used to symbolize the breakdown of the old structures that had once held their society up. In all the cases, the essential element in Faulkner’s story that gave the reader both background and insight into the story, was the setting. The use of a familiar genre supported the actions and motivations of the characters in the story and elevated the tone for the reader’s enjoyment. ?