The concept of change can instill a variety of mixed feelings in individuals and entire societies alike. This is declared through the persistant focus on both progression and tradition and the need to hold on to both ideas at the same time. Many communities, while still enjoying the benefits of progress and the civilized communities that have stemmed from centuries of change, claim to be perfectly content and willing to hold the present traditions firmly as if frozen in time. This clinging to a particular way of life is deeply rooted in the communities of the south although these individuals are known to ideolize and romanticize those who live differently in the north.
It is this reality from which William Faulkner drew the character of Homer and the reactions of the townspeople to his northern way of life. The integration of this hard working northerner into the southern community lended to the variations of mixed feelings in the community. However, individual feelings were also taken into account and the need to freeze the present in time became a reality for Homer. Despite his love for life and unstable relationships to the local residents, it was in his death that he truly became a symbol of the resistance to change. Homer Barron was a convivial man whose life turned ironically ending in putrefaction.
Homer represented several characteristics within “A Rose for Emily.” The first was that of a northerner. In fact, the first mention of Homer Barron in the story describes him as being “a Yankee–a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face” (Faulkner). This immediately separates him as being different from those within the community. His view of the world was different but it was not completely disregarded as being unappealing as “whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group” (Faulkner). Through this distinction of characteristics, it is shown that Homer is a symbol of change that is recognized but not entirely resisted at this point of the short story.
However, things begin to change as Homer is seen with Emily. The southern opinion was that, if a man spent time with a woman he would in fact marry her. However, Homer had stated that “he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks’ Club–that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner). This showed two strange concepts to the way of life for the southerners in the community. The thought was so strange that, when Homer dissappeared, the residents chose to believe that he had went away to prepare a home for him and Emily to spend their married life in together. Despite all evidence that Homer Barron had no intention of marrying Emily, the town desparately needed to believe that the tradition would hold up and that the institution of marriage would remain sacred.
Emily was no different in this belief than were the townspeople. Some things, such as the company kept between a man and a woman, were to remain as tradition and there was nothing that should change this concept. When Homer returned to town, Emily entertained him at her home and this is where tradition would remain frozen in time. Although their interaction in public and Homer’s resistance to marriage, the town believed that he remained with her for some time out of choice because this was the tradition that they needed to hold on to. This resistance to change only confirmed the decisions made my Emily to hold Homer as a token of tradition.
Homer, who was once the symbol of acceptable change through his laughter and leading role in social activities, became the symbol of tradition and the realization that only death can come from resisting progression. Once viewed in the center of a room, the reader is left of a lasting view of continuation when Homer is found in “ the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love” (Faulkner). His clothing was laid as though it was waiting for a continuation that would never come. His body had changed to a mere resemblance of the man he once was but he, himself, was never allowed to change. Emily, nor the south, would have allowed any different.
Change is a difficult concept to pinpoint in terms of acceptance. Change is necessary in order to progress as a society but often times those changes can destroy the same society that it intends to improve. However, holding to the deeply rooted beliefs and traditions can also cause a break down in society. There is a necessary balance between progression and tradition that is carefully portrayed through the characterization of Homer Barron. The impact that he has on the society and on Emily directly represent the need for change whereas the inevitable loss of his life and the strange way that his body and belongings were kept symbolize the resistance to change and the truth that some things remain with time. Although Homer was once full of life, laughter, and love as he represented change, he became lifeless and putrefied when change was no longer an option for this man. The same is true of societies. Without change, societies would be mere relics of a time gone by and the residents would only be something to be remembered.