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Written in 1930 by William Faulkner "A Rose for Emily" is a short story that demystifies the mysterious life of Miss Emily Grierson. The story highlights the effects that social change can have on an individual. The story is about Emily who is damaged by the death of her father, and this ended up leaving her with abandonment issues. The story is placed in the South which is undergoing a transition from an agriculture-based and slavery to an industrial town. Most of the families experienced the transformations apart from the Grierson that maintained the Southern traditions. Further, the Grierson's viewed themselves as of a higher class than the rest of the community, and this prevented Emily from mingling with men from the town till the death of her at age 74. Indeed, Emily's entire existence was a puzzle to the people of her community, and upon her father's death, she became confused and disoriented. Believing her father is not dead, Emily refused to permit any person from burying her father. Later she met Homer Baron, the man she falls in love with in her early thirties. Although Homer Baron did not want lifelong commitment, Emily does not want another man to escape from her life, and she poisons him to ensure a life-long commitment. The role of this paper will be to examine Chubbuck's adaptation of Faulkner multilayered narrative onto the screen without losing the appalling nature of Emily Grierson: the spinster that poisoned her Yankee lover after that locking up his corpse in a bedroom until her death 40 years later.
The short story "A Rose for Emily" is subdivided into five parts with part one opening at the time of the protagonist Emily Grierson's death. The narrator exclaims that the whole town attended the funeral with both men and women going because of varying reasons despite not knowing Emily. In the short story, the narrator is unnamed and is assumed to be one of the townspeople. Until her death at 74, Emily never married, never went out, and her entire existence puzzled the townspeople. In part one of the story, the narrator reveals why Emily died alone: Emily's father had turned down the majority of her suitors, and by the time he died she had no more suitors (Faulkner). At this point in American history, the society defined women by their ability to become mothers and wives as such this made the townspeople feel sorry for Emily. After the passing on of her father, Colonel Sartoris exempted Emily from paying taxes as Colonel claimed that Grierson had helped assisted the town with an enormous sum of money and this was a way of repaying Emily's family. Part two, three, four, and five creates tension and chronologically explains the transitions in Emily's life after the death of her father (Faulkner).
One major theme that arises from the short story is resistance to change. With the narrator adopting flashbacks back and forth in the life of Emily to reveal Miss Emily's miserable experience from the town's perspective (Abdurrahman 220). The third person narrator gives details about the life of Miss Emily, for instance, the old house, the repugnant smell coming from her home, her relationships with her lover and father, and how she kept her father's and lover's corpse in her home. As the central character in the story, Miss Emily is portrayed as an aristocratic woman as the community respects her and regards her as the symbol of tradition or as the narrator states "fallen monument."
The twenty-seven-minute adaptation of the short story highlights "A Rose for Emily" through a collective narrative voice obsessed with the happenings in the Grierson house (Tuhkunen 124). Despite the inherent limitations in capturing the short-story, the cinematic reinterpretation provides the reader with a new insight into the complexities of the short story. The short story was filmed only once by in 1982 and made for television production by Chubbuck Cinema Company. Many questions arise on how the film production company managed to meet the challenges posed by the story and the solutions that they devised to tell us about the understanding of the film of Faulkner's heroine.
Just like in the short story, an unnamed narrator who some critics identify as the town people relates critical moments in Emily's life and this includes the death of her father. Moreover, the movie succinctly captures the brief fling with Homer Baron which is also caught in the short story. According to Tuhkunen, one of the best examples of Chubbuck's creative compression of the short story is the way the producer establishes the sequence of the film (127). After a brief introduction and reminder to the viewers that the short film is "Based on a story by WILLIAM FAULKNER" the film then proceeds to a moonlit house where the towns Doctor prepares the instruments to examine Emily Grierson corpse. Once inside the house, the camera then lingers on the surroundings and on the pair of screeching wheels which help the doctor to lift Emily's lifeless body on the examination table. The movie thus begins the post-mortal journey of the "weary southern woman of 74 who was found with her head propped up on pillow and moldy with age and the lack of sunlight (Tuhkunen 127)." While the film captures this statement at the beginning, the short story only asserts this remarks in part IV of the short story.
Interestingly the atmosphere of the film also exposes the viewer to the radio voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt ho was the American president during the great depression as he reads his 1933 inaugural address. In the statement, the president states that the only thing that people need to fear is fear itself (Tuhkunen 128). Besides the music, the movie adaptation also includes various non-verbal elements, and this makes the film direct and expands the possibilities of perception. The adoption of the various techniques, verbal, visual, and audio registers rather than lamenting over the disloyalties in the source text helps the movie to improve the viewer's understanding of the general structure of the story. As a result, this makes the film have a distinct advantage over the short story (Tuhkunen 128). In both instances, unnamed narrators tell the story and their use of the pronouns, we, our, us, convey the close-knit nature of the society in which the story was adapted.
One of the main things that stands out in the film adaptation is the scarcity of dialogue. Notably, even after Homer Baron escorts her, Emily seldom speaks in a movie. Thus owing to the narration this would make one think it's a silent movie (Tuhkunen 128). When Emily finally decides to speak, she only utters only one or two words such as "arsenic." From the beginning of the short story, the author makes it clear that the men of Jefferson view the deceased lady as a fallen monument while the townswomen desire to see the insides of the Grierson house that nobody apart from the male servant had seen for more than a decade. However, one of the most significant difficulties in making the short story a short film is capturing the nature of Emily's features and her body movements. According to Faulkner, in the short story, Emily "looked bloated, like a body submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue." However, in his adaptation instead of searching for analogous visual ambiguity, Chubbuck favored other visuals that did not capture Emily as indicated in the short story. Moreover, during the transfer from text to film, the death in life effects found in the short story disappear to only appear at the end of the film. Lastly, Chubbuck does not present Emily as an ostracized spinster trapped in solitude like the short story intended.
From the above analysis, it is evident that while Chubbuck tried to capture the likeness of Faulkner's short story, Chubbuck adopted other strategies which included the use of music and visuals to express the movie adaptation. The purpose of such strategy made the original backstories and texts to be lost. However, in the improved form of the movie, the viewer is left with the blanks and paradoxes of a woman that killed her lover to hide him in a house filled with dust and shadows.
Abdurrahman, Israa' Burhanuddin. "A Stylistic Analysis of Complexity in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily.""Advances in Language and Literary Studies 7.4 (2016): 220-226. Web. 9 Nov. 2018.
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily."Xroads.virginia.edu. N.p., 2018. Web. 9 Nov. 2018.
Tuhkunen, Taina. "Idols, Icons, and Moving Pictures: William Faulkner's Southern Lady in Lyndon Chubbuck's Adaptation of “A Rose for Emily.”"South Atlantic Modern Language Association 79.1-2 (2014): 124-141. Web. 9 Nov. 2018.
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