March 5, 2011
Analysis of “A Rose for Emily” by various methods
“A Rose for Emily” is an easy story to analyze, even using multiple theories. It has many underlying themes and tones, whether intentional or not, and most particularly in relation to the main character, Emily Grierson. As such – not that I ever found value, or sense, in stating the obvious like this – I will be evaluating Emily Grierson and “A Rose for Emily” using African American Theory, Marxist Theory, Psychoanalytic Theory, and Deconstruction Theory.
In terms of the African American Theory, the most significant information is that it is set in the South, during the waning days of nobles oblige, and that Emily had a black servant. This helps to show the shape of society, and racism, during that period of American history – especially considering he is the only black person in the story, and he has a menial, service job with no obvious appreciation. Society at the time, and not just in the South, was full of racist pressures – for Tobe to keep his head down and serve, for Emily to treat him the same as all other black people, etc. In the end, after all of Tobe’s faithful service, all we ever see is him being barely considered by the town, and treated no better than an object by Emily.
From the perspective of the Marxist Theory, we see how Emily’s class, subsequent fall from affluence, and Tobe’s depressed socioeconomic status all relate to prosperity and the class system. Many of the actions in the story stress Emily’s class, such as teaching china painting (an action that is mostly frivolous, and concerning something only middle to upper-class people had), and the way the town tries to protect her dignity – as with how she’s referred to as “a tradition, a duty, and a care.” Even as Emily’s financial situation soured, which lost her respect with people of her class and higher, everyone made a point to maintain the illusion of her status – since the American Dream tells us we can make a success of ourselves, but no one moves down in class. Even Emily herself helped to preserve the image of ‘the rich stay rich’, as she stayed at home more and more as she aged. She also may have been trying to feel more like she was still a part of her born class, while holding back some for fear of being seen as ‘slumming,’ when it came to her public relationship with Homer. He let her take her on carriage rides, as well as wine and dine her, while trying to show how behaved and proper she was – along with possibly denying him formal commitment, due to him being of a lower class.
The Psychoanalytic Theory may be the most interesting way of accessing Emily Grierson, due largely to how mentally disturbed she turned out to be. First, in looking at Emily’s issues, she exhibits a massive fear of abandonment. Not only does she try to hold on to her father’s corpse, she does hold onto Homer’s. Also, her dependence on Tobe may be connected to her fear of abandonment. Next, she was rife with denial. She seemed to deny Homer’s death (even though she killed him) in laying beside his corpse. She denied that her father died, even by way of assuming some of his personality traits. She denied that she could owe taxes. Also, she shows very significant signs of an Elektra complex, in the way she clung to her father – despite him having been dominating of her – and took an interest in another ‘man’s man’, in Homer. Finally, we see some imagery. The most obvious dream-related imagery is the bedroom in which Homer was kept – taking the usual place of a basement or attic, in being the storage place of her issues and ill-deeds.
Lastly, there’s Deconstruction as a means to analyze Emily, and “A Rose for Emily.” Basically, the idea of the subject, deconstructed, is that this story shows the grim effects of the way we dictate our culture and interactions. Tobe was a shadow, an ephemeral entity who helped by did not speak, who was alluded to but was not immediately active…who came into the story, and left the story, as silently and seamlessly. Homer was Emily’s coveted possession – an object, or an ideal, she wants so much but is not allowed to have. Emily is turmoil, uncertainty, and conflict within oneself and against societal expectations. The story also portrays the comparison between the binary hierarchies of ‘new’ vs ‘old’, and ‘sane’ vs ‘insane.’