Characterization of Emily

The most important character in the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is Emily Grierson who is the object of the whole narrative.

Emily is the main character in the short story and the focus of the narration. As a result, the narrator provides readers with a very detailed outer and inner characterization. Apart from the direct descriptions of the woman, her traits also surface through the way the narrator presents her actions and attitude. However, her motives remain hidden, as the narrator has no access to her thoughts.

Outer characterization

From the woman’s outer characterization we find out that she grew up with her father and she belonged to the aristocracy of Jefferson, living in an old mansion. Her physical traits are rendered at different ages. First, we get to see her when she is getting old:

-a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal...

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Inner characterization

Unlike the outer characterization which reflects the development and changes, the woman’s inner characterization suggests that she has remained an unchanged eccentric all her life. As the narrator summarize it: “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…”

As a young lady living with her father, the author hints that Emily was probably a proud, rather arrogant woman, who would not have accepted charity but who also probably thought of herself as too good to marry any man: “…the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.”

Upon her father’s death, the woman’s strange character becomes increasingly noticeable by the others in town, who believe it might have something to do with insanity running in the family. First, she refuses to accept that her father was dead, and subsequently refuses any visits from the ladies in town:

The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three day.

Also, she starts appearing less and less in public, being rarely seen by the townspeople. However, when she meets Homer Barron, she is seen every Sunday out with him, suggesting that she probably loves him. Yet, nobody really believes that she would go all the way and marry a man beneath her status:

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