To help you write essays about literature, here’s a little analysis I’ve worked up on William Faulkner’s highly acclaimed short story, “A Rose for Emily” (NOTE: You may want to read and study the story online as you follow my reasoning, here, so create another tab in your browser, then go to Google Search and type in “A Rose for Emily” and be sure to type the quote marks; you can use ALT-TAB to move between the story and this article):
As I’ve pointed out in other articles, every story – whether a short story or a novel – has to have some major change by the end. This change is the most important factor to keep in mind when you analyze and then write essays about any story, whether short or long.
What is that change? Why, a new view reverse, of course – always!
I’ll show you how to use the following three-step new view analysis process on Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” which you can then use on any short story –
#1 – At the beginning of a short story, a strong value statement, an old view, is given by or about the main character, asserting an evaluation or describing some characteristic, goal, or desire.
As we start this masterful short story, the old view pops right out at us – it’s the very first sentence:
When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant-a combined gardener and cook-had seen in at least ten years.
Note that I’ve bolded respectful affection. That sounds like a pretty strong value statement, doesn’t it, especially since the “whole town went to her funeral.” Question is, how will that strong positive value about Emily change by the end of the story?
#2 – In the middle of a short story, the old view is supported or undercut with descriptions, conflicts, and resolutions to conflicts that set up the new view at the end.
Now, I’m not going to comment on everything in the story. But did you notice that every section of the story has something to do with the townspeople’s respect for Emily? Sometimes there was even affection along with the respect.
DESCRIPTION: Several descriptions occur in this short story, but one stands out from the rest. In the first section, after the brief introduction, the board of alderman from the town (city councilmen) have come to her mansion to meet with Miss Emily to convince her to pay her taxes, and – They rose when she entered – a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare, bloated….
Note that Miss Emily is dressed in black, with a contrasting thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt. At the end of that chain, no doubt, is a watch, which makes a figure eight of the chain with the out-of-sight watch at the end, over her abdomen. Her body is covered in black clothing and she is bloated, both face and abdomen, while her arms and legs are small and spare or thin, like the cane she carries.
We cannot grasp the significance of this description until the new view in the final scene of the story, which I’ll comment on then, of course. Just keep this description in mind, okay? We’ll bring it up again at the end of this discussion.
CONFLICT: In the second section, neighbors complain that bad smells from Emily’s house are contaminating the neighborhood. But the town’s aldermen respectfully refuse to talk to Emily about it, refuse to accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad.
RESOLUTION: To avoid a conflict with Emily about the smell, the aldermen respectfully took it upon themselves to go out at night and sprinkled lime about the grounds and in the cellar of Emily’s house to get rid of the smell. The smell disappears in two weeks.
CONFLICT: Also in the second section, Emily refused for three days to admit that her father had died and wouldn’t let anyone in to take his body to get it ready for burial.
RESOLUTION: The townspeople show respectful pity for Emily by not forcefully entering and taking the body to get it ready for funeral and burying. After three days, their respectful pity finally influences Emily, who literally broke down emotionally and let them in.
CONFLICT: The third section ends in a conflict that Emily has with the town druggist. She asks the druggist for some poison. But because he is required by law to record what the poison will be used for, the druggist keeps trying to get Emily to say what she’ll do with the poison. But Miss Emily just stared at him. No matter what the druggist said, she wouldn’t respond to the question.
RESOLUTION: The druggist gave Emily the poison anyway, in spite of the law. He merely filled in the information himself, For rats, without any input from her. He gave in to Emily out of respect for her social position, no doubt, as we have seen so often.
CONFLICT & RESOLUTION: Toward the end of the fourth section, a minor conflict and resolution occurred and passed quickly on, with Emily winning yet another conflict because of the town’s respectful affection for her: When the town got free postal delivery, Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten the metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it. She would not listen to them.
In every case of conflict in the story, respectful affection for Emily and respect for her social position is what resolves the conflict that the townspeople have with Emily’s conduct.
#3. At the end of a short story, a new view reverse of the old view is usually revealed.
In section five of the story, at Emily’s funeral, the townspeople wait respectfully until Emily is buried before they break into (which can be viewed as a kind of conflict/resolution, too) the upper room of her mansion, which has been locked for years, probably decades. The room is covered with very fine dust, and they find there a decaying skeleton in the bed, obviously belonging to Homer, Emily’s boyfriend of decades ago.
In the pillow right next to the skeleton is the surprise – they find a deep indentation where someone must have laid their head repeatedly and somewhat recently, because they find there a long strand of iron-grey hair in the indentation – Emily’s hair, without a doubt, since Faulkner has described Emily’s hair as iron grey.
Here’s the new view-the respectful affection of the townspeople at the start of the story must turn around, must reverse to a strong revulsion after they learn that Emily killed her lover and slept with his decaying body through many years, even decades. It takes some kind of a repulsive monster to do something like that!
With that thought in mind, recall the description of Emily in the first section: a small, fat woman in black. While not a perfect match, that description is fairly close to that of a black widow spider. Remember the figure eight – the thin gold chain – ending out of sight on the bloated abdomen? And the spare or thin limbs, with the cane adding a fifth sort of limb, which is one more than half of the eight limbs of a spider? Remember the fat, bloated body? So this view of Emily killing her lover is very like a black widow spider killing her male partner.
Why did the townspeople break into that locked room in the first place? They weren’t sure what was in there, but they expected to find something important there, obviously. And that something provided a new view reverse of respectful affection for Miss Emily, at the very least for the reader, if not for the townspeople, as well.
Now, these sample thesis statements can help give you a some ideas for writing a strong essay on William Faulkner’s superbly crafted short story, “A Rose for Emily:”
- Faulkner uses his short story,A Rose for Emily, to illustrate the theme that, ‘Human nature can be corrupted when an individual is given too many unearned privileges and too much undeserved respectful affection.’
- In a surprise ending, William Faulkner’s short story, A Rose for Emily, reveals how a society steeped in a tradition of respect for social position can be so tragically, so ironically wrong.
- In A Rose for Emily, Faulkner repeatedly uses conflict and resolution to hammer home the respectful affection the townspeople have for Emily-until the end.
- Descriptive imagery about the mansion in A Rose for Emily adds to the revelation about Miss Emily’s true character at the end, which has been hidden by the house for decades.
- In A Rose for Emily, the single long strand of iron-grey hair at the end becomes a symbol suggesting Emily killed her boyfriend, which clears up the incidents of the smell, the rat poison, and the disappearance of Homer-not to mention reversing the townspeople’s ever-present respectful affection for Emily.