The Use of Personality Traits to Foreshadow in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” In William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily”, Emily’s reclusiveness, arrogance and old-fashioned attitude demonstrate her refusal to adapt to the present. Throughout the plot, glimpses into Emily’s life and behavior foreshadow the conclusion of the story. The author uses third person voice and a series of flashbacks to illustrate examples of her reclusive behavior, the arrogance that being a Grierson has instilled in her and how her thinking has remained in years gone past.
Although Emily is referred to affectionately as a “fallen monument” by the unnamed townspeople, she is scarcely known and rarely leaves her house. In her younger years she was seen occasionally with Homer Barron, a contractor hired to pave the sidewalks. While Homer was courting her, the two took Sunday drives in public, which set the town abuzz. After his mysterious disappearance, however, Emily goes into full reclusivity.
The town’s politicians are even forced to pay a visit to Emily at home when they finally decide to press the issue of paying property taxes which a Colonel Sartoris had graciously deemed paid in full for the remainder of her life. The Board of Aldermen are briefly admitted into the house and given only a quick glimpse of the woman Emily Grierson has become in old age. Outside of china painting classes Emily gave to the children of some of “Colonel Sartoris’s contemporaries” (page 48) ten years earlier, it was the most anyone had seen of her in some time.
Consequently, when Emily finally passes on, her funeral is attended by a variety of townspeople who are overly curious “to see the inside of her house” (page 43). At this point, Faulkner has foreshadowed the fact that something monumental will be found there. Emily’s arrogance was ripe fodder for her contemporaries. She retained a Negro servant, Tobe, throughout her life in the tradition of her family, but apparently he was just as committed to being a recluse as she and was only seen on market shopping days, speaking little.
Everyone thought the family had always “held themselves a little too high for what they really were” (page 44) and seemed to relish anything Emily did that could make her seem more human. When a horrible smell developed in the house and wafted through the neighborhood it was chalked up to bad housekeeping because “a man…[cannot] keep a kitchen properly” (page 45). This, the townspeople declared, created a “link between the gross, teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons” (page 45).
They wanted an opportunity to feel sorry for Emily and rejoice in the fact that even though her last name was Grierson, she was human after all. Even so, family name carries enough respect that former Confederate soldiers “to whom the past is not a diminishing road” (page 49) feel obliged to attend her funeral service. Emily’s arrogance is what keeps the people of the town interested in the details of her life, and death.
Perhaps because of Emily’s old-fashioned attitude and ideals, she was used to taking matters into her hands and this, too, foreshadows Homer’s Barron end. Although motor cars are a normal sight in town, Emily never bought one and preferred, instead, to ride about with Homer using an old-fashioned horse and buggy. When postal service came to town some years earlier, Emily would have none of it, refusing to allow a mailbox and numbers affixed to her old house.
Anything she needed could be delivered or Tobe was sent out with his market basket on shopping day to bring it back, bypassing modern convenience. Faulkner uses these vagaries of Emily’s personality to foreshadow the conclusion when the townspeople swarm through the house to reach the upper bedroom which has been closed for 40 years. It is because of her reclusiveness, arrogance and old-fashioned attitude that the strange old lady purchases rat poison, kills her lover and locks him inside a bedroom for many years, not to be discovered until her death.