The Past-Present Contrast in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" | (2023)

William Faulkner is known for his use of imagery and symbolism in depicting the depth of his stories. Another literary device he used in many of his works is contrast. Examining the contrasts gives readers clues as to the meaning or messages the author is trying to convey. Character contrasts are perhaps the most common. However, out of such contrasts comes a plot contrast. Since the plot reflects an ethical or moral state, contrasting plots suggest a contrast in ideological perspectives and therefore in relation to the subject.

In the short story A Rose for Emily, Faulkner contrasts the present tense with the past tense. In the story, Faulkner portrays the present through the narrator, representing it in Homer Barron, the new Board of Aldermen, and the "next generation with their more modern ideas". On the other hand, Faulkner represents the past in Emily herself, in the old black servant, in the Council of Aldermen and in Colonel Sartoris.

Faulkner's concept of the present is not a sharply defined point between past and future. Your idea of ​​the present is irrational; it is an incomprehensible and monstrous event that descends upon us and vanishes. For Faulkner, there is nothing beyond this present, since the future does not exist. Faulkner's concept of the present is also characterized by a floating, which indicates a kind of temporally interrupted movement. One can observe in the author's works that there is never any progress, nothing that can come from the future. For Faulkner, the present does not contain anticipated future events. On the other hand, the author proposes that to be present means to appear and be suspended for no reason.

In addition, the past of Faulkner's characters is not arranged chronologically, but follows certain impulses and emotions. Many fragments of thought and action revolve around a few central themes; hence the absurdity of the chronology and the claim of the clock. The Order of the Past In Faulkner's work is the order of the heart. One must not think that the present event, having been in the past, becomes the most immediate of all memories. The passage of time can sink it to the bottom of memory or leave it on the surface. Only its own inner value and its importance for our life can determine its level. For Faulkner, the past is never lost; it's always present, almost like an obsession.

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In A Rose for Emily, Faulkner portrays the world as a jumble of past and present. Here the author creates an atmosphere of distortion, unreality. Emily's world is the result of the dissolution of a natural temporal order. Emily is portrayed as "a fallen monument". That's because she's proven vulnerable to death (and decay). Mentioning death will later condition you for a more specific engagement with it. The second paragraph of the story shows the essential ugliness of the contrast. Emily's home is described as:

...a large, once white, square clapboard house decorated with domes, spiers and ornate porches in a brightly lit 1970's style, situated on what was once our most exclusive street. But garages and cottonseeds had invaded and erased even the lofty names of this neighborhood; only Miss Emily's house remained, elevating its wanton and flirtatious decay above the cotton wagons and gas pumps—an eyesore among eyesore.

Here you can see a juxtaposition of past and present. This scene can be recognized as a symbolic representation of Emily herself. This is what the words "stubborn and coquettish" indicate. The contrast is maintained in the fifth paragraph description of the note Emily sent to the mayor, “a note on paper of archaic form, in a fine, flowing handwriting in faded ink,” and in the fifth paragraph description of the interior of the house, as Representatives of the Council of Aldermen visit them: “They were let in by the old black man into a dark corridor from which a staircase led up into more shadows. It smelled of dust and disuse—a damp, locked smell. Furthermore, in the sixth paragraph, Faulkner reveals Emily's resemblance to her home: "She looked swollen, like a body that had been submerged in still water for a long time, and with that pale hue."

When she was young and immersed in the world of her contemporaries, the narrator tells readers that Emily was "a slender figure clad in white," in contrast to her father, who is described as a "stretched-out silhouette." In the photo of Emily and her father, Faulkner describes her as fragile and willing to participate in the life of her time. Here we observe a reversal of the contrast already presented, which will be developed later. Even after the death of Emily's father, she is not portrayed as monstrous; Instead, she looks like a girl "with a vague resemblance to those angels in the tinted church windows - kind of tragic and serene". Faulkner hints in A Rose for Emily that the protagonist had already begun his entry into this underworld, but would have been saved if Homer Barron had been a different kind of man.

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When the representatives of the new and progressive Board of Aldermen await Emily for her tax arrears, she has withdrawn completely into her past world. Readers note that no communication is possible between Emily and the representatives:

His voice was dry and cold. “I don't have taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Maybe one of you can get access to city records and see for yourself.

"But we do. We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn't you get a note from the sheriff, signed by him?"

"I have a newspaper, yes," said Miss Emily. “Maybe he thinks he's the sheriff. . . I don't have taxes in Jefferson.

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"But nothing in the books shows that we..."

"See Colonel Sartoris. I don't have taxes in Jefferson.

"But Miss Emily..."

"See Colonel Sartoris." (Colonel Sartoris had been dead nearly ten years.) "I have no taxes in Jefferson. Ser ser!" The black man appeared. "Take these gentlemen out."

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Just as Emily refused to acknowledge her father's death, she now refuses to acknowledge Colonel Sartoris' death. He had given his word, and according to the traditional view "his word" knew no death. It is the past against the present - the past with its social decency, the present with all that is recorded in the "books". Emily lives in the past, becoming a world of unreality for us in the present. Here are the facts that set the tone of the story and create the atmosphere of unreality that surrounds it.

Faulkner constantly contrasts past and present. For example, the author distinguishes between the attitude of Judge Stevens (who is in his eighties) and the attitude of the young man (a member of the "upcoming generation") who comes to see him about the smell in Emily's house. For the young man, Emily's world ceased to exist. The city's health codes are on the books. "Damn it, sir," replies the judge, "You want to tell a lady that she smells bad to her face?" Emily bowed to societal pressures by allowing her father's funeral, but triumphed over society when it came to smell. She had already won when she bought the poison and refused to comply with the demands of the law because they didn't exist for her.

However, such incidents appear as mere preparation for the most important contrast between Emily and Homer. Emily is the town's aristocrat; Homer is a day laborer. Homer is an active man involved with machines and workers. He is Northern, while Emily is a "monument" to Southern gentility. Emily is a town commons, but in a special way – as an ideal of bygone values. Faulkner appears to be commenting on the complex relationship between Southerners and their past and between contemporary Southerners and Northern Yankees. Seen as unreal by her countrymen, Emily impresses them with her position even at a time when they consider her fallen: "as if [her dignity] wanted this touch of the earth to confirm her impenetrability". Emily's world remains in the past, and when threatened with desertion and disgrace, she not only flees into this world, but takes Homer with her in the only way possible.

Emily's position on the specific issue of time is hinted at in the scene where the old soldiers appear at their funeral. In this scene the reader is given two views of the time: the world of the present and the world of tradition. The contemporary world is the vision of the modern generation in Jefferson and Homer. On the other hand, the world of tradition is the view of Confederate soldiers and senior city council members. Emily takes the second view, except that for her there is no block separating her from the meadow of the past. Here the small room became this timeless meadow. In it, the living Emily and the dead Homer stay together as if not even death could separate them. The symbols of Homer's work fell silent. On the contrary, Emily's world, while untouchable while alive, was invaded after her death.

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Overall, Faulkner's A Rose for Emily suggests that man must learn to deal with both the past and the present. To ignore the past is to be guilty of foolish innocence, and to ignore the present is to become monstrous and inhuman, especially to betray an excessive pride in the face of the humiliating fact of death. "A Rose for Emily" reiterates what has been said in so many stories - that the man's situation is tragic, but that trying to overcome it is heroism.


How does Faulkner present the past in A Rose for Emily? ›

In “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner does not rely on a conventional linear approach to present his characters' inner lives and motivations. Instead, he fractures, shifts, and manipulates time, stretching the story out over several decades. We learn about Emily's life through a series of flashbacks.

What is the historical era of the story A Rose for Emily? ›

The story spans almost 75 years: Emily Grierson is born around the American Civil War, (1861-1865), and dies in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Because the events in ''A Rose for Emily'' occur mainly after the Civil War, they take place during what is known as Reconstruction in the South.

What historical change does A Rose for Emily represent through symbolism? ›

In William Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner reflects the deterioration of the Old South by using Emily Grierson as a symbol for southern views on reconstruction through descriptions of the respect and admiration of Emily, using imagery to contrast her youth and downfall, and descriptions of how modernization ...

What are the two major conflicting ideals in A Rose for Emily? ›

These include the conflict of man vs. society as well as internal conflict. ''A Rose for Emily'' includes three types of conflict: person versus person, person versus society, and person versus self.

What does Faulkner say about the past? ›

William Faulkner's line, "The past is never dead. It's not even past," is now at the center of a lawsuit.

What is Faulkner's main point in his speech? ›

In his speech, Faulkner makes his famous statement about the 'duty' of writers: that they should write about 'the human heart in conflict with itself', as well as emotions and themes such as compassion, sacrifice, courage, and hope.

In what ways does Emily in Faulkner's short story represent the American past? ›

Emily stands as an emblem of the Old South, a grand lady whose respectability and charm rapidly decline through the years, much like the outdated sensibilities the Griersons represent. The death of the old social order will prevail, despite many townspeople's attempts to stay true to the old ways.

What could be the author's purpose in writing the story of A Rose for Emily? ›

Answer and Explanation: William Faulkner's purpose for writing "A Rose for Emily" is to confront how the Old South influenced the New South, making it difficult for the South to fully escape its racist past. Emily exhibits the values of the Old South while the town of Jefferson is modernizing.

How is feminism shown in A Rose for Emily? ›

The theme of feminism in A Rose for Emily can be clearly seen in the way the author describes the South – a deeply patrimonial and even chauvinistic region where women receive little to no respect and recognition.

What are 3 symbols in A Rose for Emily? ›

In this story, the writer found some symbols reflected a sad life from Emily Grierson. They are: The rose, Emily's hair, watch ticking, black color, and her father.

What is the deepest meaning behind the title A Rose for Emily? ›

The rose serves as a symbol of sympathy for Emily, who is presented as a stubborn and sometimes harsh character.

What was the unusual point of view in A Rose for Emily? ›

Narrator in 'A Rose for Emily'

The narrator of William Faulkner's ''A Rose for Emily'' uses a first-person plural voice, indicating that the story is being told by a collective narrator, or a narrator that seemingly comes from multiple perspectives all at once.

What are the two major conflicts in the story? ›

All conflict falls into two categories: internal and external.
  • Internal conflict is when a character struggles with their own opposing desires or beliefs. It happens within them, and it drives their development as a character.
  • External conflict sets a character against something or someone beyond their control.
Sep 29, 2021

What are the two conflicts illustrated in the story? ›

Solution : There are two type of conflicts in the story. The conflict between humans and nature is illustrated by the fall of huge hailstones. The rain does come but comes accompanied by hailstones that destroy everything- leaves, trees and fields. The other conflict is among humans themselves.

Does A Rose for Emily have flashbacks? ›

Faulkner is known for the use of flashbacks in his writing, as seen extensively in “A Rose for Emily.” For example, the story begins at her funeral and then jumps to the Board of Aldermen appearing at Emily's house demanding taxes.

How is Emily stuck in the past? ›

Miss Emily's comprehension of death, her relationship with the townspeople, and her reaction toward her taxes are clear examples that she is living in the past. At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells the reader that "our whole town went to her funeral"(336).

How does the historical setting most contribute to Miss Emily situation? ›

In “A Rose for Emily” the historical context shows the social, economic, and the cultural environment of the background. Miss Emily was born during the Civil War. The Civil War took place in 1861-1865. Since Emily was raised in the South, her family had the same values and morals of the confederate side.


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