After World War One, there were many changes occurring in the world. Mans inherent need to follow tradition was now being challenged by a continually changing, modern world. The past and the present often conflicted. William Faulkner, a southern born writer, based much of his novels and short stories on this conflict. He aptly reflects the turmoil of the past and the present in, A Rose for Emily.
The conflict between the past and the present is symbolized in the beginning of the story by this description, only now Miss Emilys house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores (331). It is ironic that the same description stubborn and coquettish decay can be a description for Miss Emily as well. And just like her house, which had once been white and on a select street, Miss Emily had been a slim young girl dressed in white.
But as the house fell into decay so had Miss Emily, she looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue(332). The town played a part in Miss Emilys delusion. There were numerous complaints of a foul stench permeating from her property. A younger member of the Board of Aldermen suggested that Miss Emily be told to clean up her property. But due to the old southern ideals of honor, duty and loyalty the older, the more traditional members could not possibly confront her about this matter.
Dammit sir, Judge Stevens said, will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad(333)? So in the midnight hour they chose to slunk about the house and apply lime to the infected areas. Then thirty years later the Board of Aldermen allow themselves to be vanquished by Miss Emily as they attempted to collect the delinquent taxes owed the town. The druggist also permits her to purchase arsenic without following protocol. By law Miss Emily was required to tell the druggist what she plan to do with the arsenic.
She did not. Ray B. West Jr. aught at the University of Montana and the University of Kansas. He was also the editor of, Rocky Mountain Stories and The Art of Modern Fiction. He wrote an analysis on, A Rose for Emily, titled Atmosphere and Theme in A Rose for Emily in 1949. He states, It is the Past pitted against the Present-the Past with its social decorum, the Present with everything set down in the books. Emily dwells in the Past, always a world of unreality to us of the Present. (68). In his analysis, Mr. West sees an atmosphere (time, place, and conditions) of unreality created by the female character, Emily.
And once this atmosphere of unreality is established, the reader is being prepared for Emilys unnatural act at the end of the story. This same atmosphere allows the reader to see Miss Emily as a tragic figure instead of an evil monster. Miss Emily hold on the past had made her a victim of her own values. The relationship with Homer Barron is also a conflict of the past and the present. Miss Emily, a Southern aristocrat, is the ideal of past values and Homer, a northern laborer, is a part of the ever-changing present.
While Miss Emily is of moonlight and magnolias, cotton fields, faithful old family servants and Mount Vernon mansions a quote by Joel Williamson, a historian of the south (Williamson 401). Homer is of machinery, a hearty laugh and a mans man. Miss Emily symbolizes the slow moving pace of the old south while Homer symbolizes progress of the fast moving pace of the new south. Even during their buggy rides Miss Emily sits with her head high, representing the past and Homer sits with his hat cocked, representing the present. Homer must have planned to leave Miss Emily.
When her father had died, she refused to acknowledge his death for three days. Her father, who had been the mainstay of her life, had left her . The father that turned away potential suitors because he felt that they were not good enough for his daughter. I t was said that she had to cling to that which had robbed her. Homer entered her life by courting her publicly, for there not to be marriage, would have robbed her of her dignity and high standing in the community. The ladies of the town had already felt that Miss Emily was not setting a good example for the young people.
The situation was becoming a disgrace to the town. Homer could not be allowed to leave, henceforth the arsenic. But this time, the town people would not be able to take Homer from her, as they had with her father. Now the little room above the stairs became the past for Miss Emily. In this room, Emily and Homer remained together as though death had not separated them. Emily had conquered the present; she was allowed to live her life in the past. The bridal room is the color of roses and symbolizes the color of love.
In the room the valence curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lightsand the mans toilet things backed with tarnish silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured(337). For a while Miss Emily was able to maintain her past in this rose-colored bridal room, in her rose-tinted world. Miss Emily could not fight time forever, because through death, her past was invaded by the present, at last. After the burial of Miss Emily, the door of the little room was broken down and the past was finally allowed to escape its tomb.
The man himself lay in bed (337). The corpse of Homer Barron was in the bridal bed, with the remnants of his nightshirt laid about him. Beside him, a pillow with the indentation of a head and a strand of gray hair told the macabre story. This could have ended being a gothic, horror story but instead it shows a repressed, overprotected woman denied a chance to live a normal life because of the times (past). The present had tried to defeat her but only through death, did this become possible. On the victor, Faulkner bestows a rose of tribute, a rose for Miss Emily(FIU 26).