The Insanity of Miss Emily

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (Einstein). A Rose for Emily is a short story written by William Faulkner about the life of Miss Emily and her descent into insanity. Through the story Miss Emily gets caught in the past and shows no want or need to conform to the new ways of the south. Miss Emily was always a mystery to her peers and the community around her in both the old and the new south. This kept her from gaining any strong bonds to very many people. The major ties she kept are with her father and Homer. Homer was a man that had brief relationship with Miss Emily. Faulkner illustrates Miss Emily’s insanity through the symbol of dust, the color yellow, and the archaic house to show how she is stuck in the ways of the old south unwilling to conform which leads to her insanity.

Dust symbolizes the fall of the old south and how it had slowly become more and more decrepit overtime and become new, the Miss Emily losing all hope and everything around her returning to dust. “Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her.” Dust shows that overtime things begin to crumble similar to a body being destined to die. “It smelled of dust and disuse–a close, dank smell.” Dust and dank are used to show that something that was once used or new is old and useless.

The quote, “Here he lay in the roseate atmosphere of Emily’s death-in-life: “What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust. The symbols of Homer’s life of action have become mute and silent.” is used to further show that the dust is settled upon the dead body of homer allowing for a connection between the two (West). A yellow pillow was shown with dust having set on it just like everything else in Miss Emily’s house.

The color yellow represents Miss Emily’s hope and happiness which is shown through the bright yellow car, the yellow glove when she was happy with homer, and the yellow pillow covered in dust and mold showing that her hope and happiness had faded away. “Presently we began to see him and Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in the yellow-wheeled buggy and the matched team of bays from the livery stable.”

When miss Emily was with Homer they were seen in the yellow wheeled buggy, during her time with homer she was happy and was out in public enjoying herself. “She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight.”  The yellow pillow represents her happiness. Yellow is always seen when times are happiest in Miss Emily’s Life. The dust that represents death, decay or destruction is on the pillow showing that Miss Emily’s happiness is all but destroyed and lost completely. Miss Emily’s happiness lies in the past where Miss Emily was stuck.

Miss Emily’s refusal to conform to the new ways of the south is shown through her stance on paying taxes and the quality of her home becoming outdated and turning to shambles. “I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Satoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves.’ Miss Emily ignored and refused to pay her taxes even when the town’s people told her that the rules no longer apply to her free taxes. “Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores.” Miss Emily’s house never got an update to the new south and was seen as an eyesore. The house was even described as coquettish and decaying. The house is used as a symbol to show that Miss Emily stayed in the past not being able to let go of what she had. She refused to follow the new taxation put onto her by the townspeople. She kept her father’s body for many days after his death and funeral along with keeping Homers body for 40 years after she murdered him. There are many examples that show the slow transition to insanity through time in the story.

Many see Miss Emily as miss understood but not as insane. The way that she acts and her intents may prove otherwise. It is shown that many times she slips into insanity whether that be when she buys arsenic to murder Homer, when she refuses to release her father’s dead body from her home, or when she keeps Homers body locked away for 40 years. She kept his body and refused upkeep on her home. This shows that she was stuck in the ways of the old south rather than conforming to the new south. All of these things are wrapped up into a bundle of evidence showing her descent into insanity, the days when she was happy with Homer, and her refusal to change to a modern day society.

Work Cited

  1. West, Ray B., Jr. ‘Atmosphere and Theme in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.’ Short Story Criticism, edited by Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald, vol. 1, Gale, 1988. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 4 Dec. 2018. Originally published in William Faulkner: Four Decades of Criticism, edited by Linda Welshimer Wagner, Michigan State University Press, 1973, pp. 192-198.