The Nature of a Town’s Obsession


In American society, it has become a second nature for
people to put others on a pedestal, thus allowing a harsher
criticism of their actions. This practice provides members of
society with less time to evaluate their own faults. The
townspeople in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily separated
Emily Grierson from themselves on the basis of family status.
Throughout the story they continuously place her actions as being
on a higher level than those of other people in the town in order
to put her actions under a harsher scrutinization than their own.

When Homer Barron comes to their town, the townspeople watch
in earnest to see how the relationship between he and Emily
develops. As it progresses, the people begin to add the town
constructed model of how Emily should behave to their
evaluation of the affair between her and Homer. Though it would
perhaps have been considered acceptable for another woman of the
town to fall in love with such a man, they consoled themselves
that “...a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a
day laborer.”(Pg. 74) They set her up as the model of their small
society so that when she fails they have a soul upon which to
place the blame for the wrongs in their society. For, not a long
period of time had elapses before “...some of the ladies began to
say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the
young people.”(Pg. 75)

Amongst the swirling disapproval of the relationship between
Homer and Emily, the town seeks emotional guidance for Emily in
the form of her two cousins. “So she had blood - kin under her
roof again, and [they] sat back to watch the developments.”(75)
Emily, and her tribulations in life, have become a form of
entertainment. When a person is placed so high above others by
their peers, the subconscious expectation by their peers is that
the person who is deemed as superior will fail. In an effort to
cover their insecurities and failures in life, people create
drama outside of themselves. The hope is that the dramas they
conjure up, will detract others from the view of their own
deficiencies.

Through the obsession which this town holds for Emily, stems
a jealousy of her superiority, the idea of which has been created
by the townspeople themselves. In today’s society, we hold
celebrities as superior to ourselves, and fool ourselves into
believing that they are some sort of superbeings. As time
elapses, a jealousy of these people begins to fester, and
eventually our society begins to wait for a chance to prove that
these people are only human. We claw at the chance to bring these
people down to our level, when we put them above ourselves in the
first place. At the time of the death of Emily’s father, the
people of the town found their chance to bring Emily down to
their level. Because her father had left her nothing but the
house, the townspeople “...could pity Miss Emily. Being left
alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized.”(73) Throughout
their lives, the women had held basically held Emily and her
father as the epitome of wealth, splendor and beauty. “[They] had
long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in
white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the
foreground....”(73) In the earlier years of her life, Emily’s
beauty and stature was the cause of much jealousy among the other
women of the town. “So when she got to be thirty and was still
single, [they] were not pleased exactly, but vindicated....”(73)
They had succeeded in bringing her back down to their level after
they had positioned her in a place of superiority.

In our society today, we continue to play this same game
with celebrities. It is a one sided, voyeuristic approach to
understanding another person. They do not understand Emily as a
real person, nor do they care. A lack of interaction caused by
their detachment of her from society prevents her from being
considered as human. They use her instead as an escape from the
evaluation of their own shortcomings