Study Guide

A Rose for Emily Memory and the Past

By William Faulkner

Memory and the Past

Section 1

[…] a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment […]. (1.4)

From her handwriting, to her stationery, to her way of dealing with the town, Miss Emily is living in the past. But, it's not her past. That's just the way it is, as the tax collectors learn.

Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town […]. (1.3)

As is often the case in the story, Emily is described here as an object, a thing passed on from generation to generation. When we realize the town is complicit in her downfall, this objectification waxes sinister.

Section 2

Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. (2.13)

This points to the collective memory of the town, passed from one generation to the next. Forty years before Emily's death, Homer Barron was killed, the lime powder was sprinkled, and the townspeople were vanquished.

People in our town, remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last, believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were. (2.11)

If it hadn't been for lady Wyatt, the town would have found something else to use as evidence against any Grierson claim to nobility. But, sane or not, not one can deny what the Grierson's had. This also gives us one of the few clues to the history of Emily's family.

She told them that her father was not dead. (2.13)

Emily lived in the past for three days. Although the story suggests that Emily's father was pretty awful to her, they must have had some good moments. After all, he was all she had. The town couldn't fault her, either, for failing to come to terms with the fact that he was gone.