Influence of Civil War and Reconstruction on, William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"

Civil war and rebuilding have had a stronger influence on the work of numerous writers around the world, particularly those from the United States who saw the effects of the conflict firsthand. Several writers have appeared, attempting to express their thoughts and what they perceive to be a major shambles during the time period. The American Civil War began in 1861 and lasted about four and a half years, ending in 1865. This was due to the long time differences in sections and many unresolved questions that arose when the constitution of the United States was approved. This was a war between the Northerners and the Southerners which specifically began in the 10th of April, 1861 when the Confederate forces demanded Major Anderson’s forts army to surrender. The Union States were led by Abraham Lincoln while Jefferson Davies led the Southern Confederate States (Carlisle 34). However many people perished in the process with a known approximate figure being between 750, 000 to 1, 000, 000. Moreover, the war was one of its kinds as even advancements were realized in the medical, military and chaplain sectors. A number of women went to an extent of participating in the war while others played roles like human rights activists, nurses and running their farms. When the war ended in 1865 with the Northerners emerging victorious, cities and even villages remained disorganized as the war penetrated up to the interior and many civilians lost their lives due to unknown diseases and the effects caused by the chemicals used in the war. Nevertheless, the Southerners gained their independence and many black people who had been enslaved in the North were set free.

However, after the war came to an end, the Southerners began to reconstruct themselves. The process, which was also very tiresome and faced many challenges, involved the transformation and rebuilding of the state. This was due to the damage the war had cost both to the environs and the people in general (Carlisle 42). Therefore, cities had to resume to their normal activities and every citizen had to go back to their normal businesses but due to the series of activities involved, the process took about fourteen and a half years.

The essay aims at examining how Civil War and Reconstruction influenced William Faulkner's work in the book, "A Rose for Emily"

Analysis of the Text

Therefore, William Faulkner gets an influence from these activities and decides to write a book named ‘A Rose for Emily’ where he critically analyses how the Southerners try to deform themselves after the war. He describes in the book that there are two worlds, the older, which consisted of those people who did not want to part ways with the past yet the nation was becoming modernized and the newer world, which consisted of people who accepted to move on with the changes that were occurring (Faulkner 17). The two groups in this book clearly represent those in the civil war where one of the groups, the Northerners, was fighting for things to remain as they were while their counterparts the Southerners were fighting to bring change to their people and states. He even goes ahead and condemns the religions for letting people loose instead of uniting them. These religious leaders sit aside watching while people follow the wrong direction and they refuse to preach peace in order to save the society. This is a clear representation of the religious leaders in the war who instead of finding the solutions to the problem decide to sit back watching their people die in the name of being lenient and therefore not wanting to take sides. (Carlisle 48)

Moreover, still in the context of his book, Faulkner highlighted that some of the individuals are prevented by the society from realizing their dreams, and an example of this is Emily who, when her father dies, all her ambitions are killed by the community she lives in and therefore decides to remain lonely and live a secretive life (Faulkner 56). This simply relates to the people who were enslaved during the civil war. At their teen ages they had dreams which they were living to achieve but later on things change abruptly making them to be slaves in a state that does not belong to them. The enslavement and torture kill their dreams fully and therefore they fail to accomplish anything they desired in the past.

Additionally, when Emily’s father dies, the town mayor Colonel Sartoris decides to suspend her tax responsibilities because she feels that her father played a big role in moving their town to where it was. However, when new people take the leadership of the town, they force her to return to the normal and start paying tax again (Faulkner 35). This one has a similar correlation to the leadership of the United States during the civil war where President Andrew Johnson who is a southerner decides to act fairly to both groups of people. However, when the government officials from the north realize that, they decide to impeach him so that people from the south can continue to be harassed and for them not to gain much from the government (Perry 38).

Basing on the characters in his book, Faulkner has identified several individuals that carry the events in the story that was in line with Civil War and Reconstruction. A number of the characters are the backbone of his writing and therefore they play the roles of the main characters throughout the whole story. The main character he identifies is Emily, a young girl with ambitions who later grows to be a hopeless old woman and who decides to stay away from the people. Therefore, she serves many roles in this story one of them being defending the past. She refuses to accept the changes that are taking place in the society and tries to stay a life similar to the one her father lived (Heller 39). This is clearly evident because her house is one of the oldest ones in town including its design being an ancient one. She also refuses to bury her father after he dies claiming that she is still alive until the reality faces her later on. This woman represents one of the groups in the war which did not want to accept the changing world and move on. The northerners did not want to allow their counterparts from the south to gain their freedom and stay free lives but instead wanted to keep them under their control forever. Moreover, Emily represents those women who are dumped by the society and also exposes the suffering they go through. After being neglected by the community, she decides to live a lonely life in her dusty room where a bad smell from her father’s dead body penetrates (Faulkner 39). Therefore, this represents what most of the women go through during the war and the reconstruction period. Women and children become the casualties of the war because they have no defense at all except for a few who decide to join the male soldiers in the war (Carlisle 67). Even during the elections, women fail to stand out and contest for the available posts and therefore they remain to be the victims of most of the abuse in the society.

The next character in the book is Mr. Grierson, who is the father to Emily. He is an outstanding person in the society and everyone appreciates his deliberate efforts. Even after his death, he still remains in people’s minds because of the good things he does while still alive. Faulkner describes him as principally-stated because he decides to stay by his principals and ensures that his daughter lives near her. He goes to an extent of chasing away the suitors who were bringing the proposals of marrying her (Faulkner 40). His character of fighting for the good of others equips him to the soldiers who sacrifice their lives to fight for the freedom of their people, although many of them lose their lives in war without getting a taste of what they were fighting for.

Furthermore, Colonel Sartoris is as an outstanding leader in the society who identified the good work of the people and rewards them. He clearly understands that Emily’s father fought for the freedom of their people and therefore decides to appreciate him in some way. Since he cannot do that to Mr. Grierson himself because he is already dead, he extends the appreciation to her daughter by absolving all her tax burdens. However, his successors turn this down and therefore recommend that she resumes to her normal duties of paying taxes. Therefore, Colonel represents those leaders who were able to realize the efforts of their people and rewarded them in a particular manner. An example is such is, President Abraham Lincoln, who gave his soldier’s promotions in their tasks when he realizes that they have performed better there before (Faulkner 77).

More importantly, Faulkner portrays several themes which are evident from the story and those that the characters involved expose. The first theme therefore is the theme of tradition versus change. In this regard, the society here is split in to two sections, as one accepts the change that is taking place and lives by it while the other struggles to remain intact and follow the tradition although time does not allow. Emily’s house and compound fully represents the past because its design and architecture was the one people used before the new designs emerged and took over. The town also contains cemeteries, which is also another indication of the past activities where people used to bury their loved ones at one central place. However, modernization is coming quicker and taking over the airwaves and therefore many people in town decided to move to the new way of living (Faulkner 80). This theme is also evident in the independent states of the United States where one group, the Southerners, fight for change in the society while the other, the Northerners, struggle to remain intact to the tradition (Carlisle 76). However, the Southerners win since there was change like freeing of the enslaved although they lose in the actual war where then they fail to rule for themselves.

The next theme that is clearly evident from the story is the theme of suffering. Emily goes through many challenges, including abandonment by the townspeople, when her father dies. She stays in a dusty room and does not interact with anyone until one day when a stranger comes by the name of Homer comes to town and befriends her. People watch her through her window and many wonder why she behaves in that manner (Faulkner 96). She lacks support from her colleagues except in one instance where her cousins come and visit her. In a similar way, many people suffer in the United States both during and after the war. Many of them contract unknown diseases due to the chemicals that emanate from the weapons used in the war affecting them both physically and mentally (Carlisle 99). Moreover, many of them lose their property including businesses materials and houses which the enemies set fire on them.

In addition to that, the last theme evident from the story is the theme of death. First, Emily’s father dies most probably due to his old age leaving a big scar in the heart of her daughter. Homer, a new member in town decides to befriend Emily and she hopes that they will get married, although time is moving faster and they are growing older. Homer starts visiting Emily’s house occasionally and this gives hopes even to the townspeople that something was going to happen. However, Emily is seen in one occasion purchasing a poison and everyone in town just assumes that she is going to kill herself. Her best friend and assumed lover, Homer, goes in to her house and is never seen coming out, because everything that was in need for the wedding was already available. Unexpectedly, Emily decides to poison him so that he does not leave and for him to be near her always (Faulkner 106). She keeps him in her environs although when he is already dead, all in the name of love. Moreover, she refuses to leave her house and after sometime, the townspeople find her dead but the cause of her death remains unknown. This theme is also clear in the civil war and reconstruction that tends to affect many Americans. Many people lose their lives from the beginning of the war to the end. Houses are set on fire killing young children and women and even those that are sick. However, the United States gets a big lose when their president, Abraham Lincoln gets assassinated by a pro-slavery Confederate who sneaks into his house and fires a bullet at the back of his head. President Abraham Lincoln then becomes the first American president to be assassinated (Carlisle 132). Therefore, a large number of people, approximately over one million lost their lives in the process of civil war and reconstruction which was a big loss to the United States in general.


William Faulkner in this book has tried to create the impression and also brings in the real picture of what happens in the United States in the civil war and reconstruction period. However, when an individual analyses it critically, he or she can learn many lessons including the moral ones for one’s own upright development. Lastly, a feeling originating from some history can highly influence a person when he or she is working on his or her own work, just the way Faulkner gets that influence.

Works cited

Carlisle, Rodney P. Civil War and Reconstruction. Infobase Publishing, 2014.

Faulkner, William. A rose for Emily. Verlag F. Schöningh, 1958.

Heller, Terry. The Telltale Hair: A Critical Study of William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. University of Arizona, 1972.

Perry, Menakhem. "Literary dynamics: how the order of a text creates its meanings [with an analysis of Faulkner's" A Rose for Emily"]." Poetics today 1.1/2 (1979): 35-361.

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