Dr. Bill Ketchersid
3 December 2013
A Rose Amongst Thorns: Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Southern Reconstruction
Reconstruction after the Civil War lasted from 1865-1877. The Era of Reconstruction was a time of conflict for the Southern United States.1 Abraham Lincoln actually started making plans for reconstruction as early as December of 1863.2 On December 18, 1865, Congress formally abolished slavery. When Andrew Johnson became President after Lincoln was assassinated, he had his own plans for Reconstruction. He wanted the Confederate states to swear fealty to the United States and abolition before they would be readmitted.3 This made the Confederates rather upset. Many of the Southerners were very bitter about how the war ended and were hostile towards any Northerners that came to the South, especially those who were coming to "better" it: While the Southern men made their way across desolation to homes of want and to problems for which no man could see the solution, educationrs of the North, gatherd in the annual meeting of the National Teachers' Association, heard President S.S. Greene declare that 'the old salve states are to be new missionary ground' where 'we can not only teach the Negroes but can emancipate the 'poor whites' whom ignorance has so long kept in bondage.'4 As time moved on, there was a little less conflict between the people, but then there was a struggle between generations and those who were accepting the "New" South's way of life versus the "Old." William Faulkner captures these tensions beautifully in his short story, "A Rose for Emily."
"A Rose for Emily" is the story of a woman who lives in a very small town in the South during the Reconstruction period. The story opens with her death. Immediately, the reader is given a picture of what Southern gentility looks like, because the people going to her funeral feel some kind of an obligation to be there, simply to support her in death. . . or to see the inside of her house. She is buried in a cemetery with "Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson."5 The story comes from the point of view of one of the townspeople, and the reader can tell that Emily is something of a spectacle to them. They watch her with a sort of fascination.
The story is not in chronological order, so if the reader does not pay attention, he or she would be very confused. Richard Reed explains the importance of understanding the chronology of such stories: "When various events of the individual works are arranged in sequence, there emerges a chronicle that corresponds to the actual history of the South and the nation. In the most general terms, the history of Toknapatawpha County covers the relative innocence and simplicity of seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."6 The chronology of "A Rose for Emily" is important to note because it gives an idea of the pace of the South during the time period it is set in. The narrator tells the reader about the major events in Emily's life: her father's death, her love story, and then her own death. He spends a significant amount of time explaining the townspeople's reaction to her.7 They feel a great deal of concern for her, at first, out of respect for her father, and then seemingly out of curiosity. When there is a funky smell at her house, they try to take care of it for her, without telling her that there is a problem. They help her get her cousins out of town when they think she is about to get married. The townspeople seem genuinely interested in watching her succeed, even if she is not an active member of their society after Homer disappears. Faulkner tells the story in an enchanting manner that causes his reader to wonder what the purpose was. Because he grew up in the South, he often deals with problems that he sees in the South. In this particular story, he deals with the tensions that came with Reconstruction.
Emily is the picture of a...
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