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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Faulkner's details about
setting and atmosphere give the reader background as to the values and
beliefs of the characters, helping the reader to understand the motivations,
actions and reactions of Miss Emily and the rest of the town, and changing
the mood or tone in the story.
The setting in "A Rose for Emily" is Faulkner's fictitious post-
civil war Jefferson, a small town in the deep south of the United States.
Faulkner's use of this particular time-period or genre, is successful in
giving the reader an understanding or background to the values and beliefs
of the characters in the story. The town of Jefferson is a fallen legacy.
The hierarchical regime of the Griersons and the class system of the time
where by ordinance of the mayor- Colonel Sartoris, a Negro women could not
even walk the street without an apron, had changed into a place where even
the street on which Miss Emily lived, that had once been the most select,
had now been encroached and obliterated, her house an eyesore among
eyesores. Both the town and Miss Emily herself, now looked upon Miss Emily
as the only remnant of that greater time. This fact gives the reader an
understanding of the mindset of the "town," who is narrating Miss Emily's
story to us in a form resembling a gossip circle, where stories of various
townspeople are pieced together and of Miss Emily, the protagonist who
lived alone except for her lone servant.
The actions of Miss Emily range from eccentric to absurd but it is
the readers understanding of the setting that keep the story believable.
Miss Emily becomes reclusive and introverted after the death of her father
and the estrangement from the Yankee- Homer Barron. It is also revealed at
the end of the story that she went as far as poisoning Homer, keeping his
dead body in his house, and sleeping next to him as well. She is doing what
she feels necessary in response to the pressure placed on her by the town.
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She is still trying to maintain the role of the southern women, dignified
and proper while struggling with all the other issues in her life and
dealing with the madness that is said to run in her family. She is also not
accepting of the changing times and flat out refuses to change with them.
Faulkner's setting also helps the reader understand the mentality
and actions of the town. The townspeople seem oddly fascinated with Miss
Emily as a relic of an older time. They have put her in a special position
among the others and while they have not maintained any direct contact with
her, they are still curious even after her death about her mystery. This
could be attributed to the fact that as the times are changing, they need
someone to restore or uphold their southern pride or majesty and as she is
a Grierson, she is their only link to that past. They even take it upon
themselves to try to correct her mistakes by calling on her cousins while
she was involved with Homer. They felt that she was setting a bad example
and because she was supposed to be of a higher class and epitomize morals
and decency in the changing south they felt that they had to do something
to restore her moral standing for her.
Besides helping the reader understand the motivations and events in
the story, the setting also changed the tone of the story. The descriptions
that Faulkner gave and the images he conjured gave the story a very gothic
feel to it. The image of the Grierson place with its out of date structure
and furnishings, and of Miss Emily herself as a fat old woman resembling
death itself also helped to create a clear picture of an old run down town.
The physical setting was parallel to the social change that was taking
place at the time and could be used to symbolize the breakdown of the old
structures that had once held their society up.
In all the cases, the essential element in Faulkner's story that
gave the reader both background and insight into the story, was the setting.
The use of a familiar genre supported the actions and motivations of the
characters in the story and elevated the tone for the reader's enjoyment.