A Rose for Emily

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"A Rose for Emily"
AuthorWilliam Faulkner
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Southern Gothic
Published in1930
 
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"A Rose for Emily"
AuthorWilliam Faulkner
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Southern Gothic
Published in1930

"A Rose for Emily" is a short story by American author William Faulkner first published in the April 30, 1930 issue of Forum. The story takes place in Faulkner's fictional city, Jefferson, Mississippi, in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha County. It was Faulkner's first short story published in a national magazine.

Contents

Title

Faulkner explained the reason for his choice of the title as:

[The title] was an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who has had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute ... to a woman you would hand a rose.[1]

Plot

The story is told in nonlinear narrative and begins at the huge funeral for Miss Emily Grierson. Nobody has been to her house in ten years, except for her black servant. Her house is old, but was once the best house around. The town had a special relationship with Miss Emily ever since it decided to stop billing her for taxes in 1894. But, the "newer generation" wasn't happy with this arrangement, and so they paid a visit to Miss Emily and tried to get her to pay the debt. She refused to acknowledge that the old arrangement might not work any more, and flatly refused to pay.

Thirty years before, the tax collecting townspeople had a strange encounter with Miss Emily about a bad smell at her place. This was about two years after her father died, and a short time after her lover disappeared from her life. The stench got stronger and complaints were made, but the authorities didn't want to confront Emily about the problem. So, they sprinkled lime around the house and the smell was eventually gone.

Everybody felt sorry for Emily when her father died. He left her with the house, but no money. When he died, Emily refused to admit it for three whole days. The town didn't think she was "crazy then," but assumed that she did not want to let go of her dad.

Next, the story doubles back and tells us that not too long after her father died Emily begins dating Homer Barron, who is in town on a sidewalk-building project. The town heavily disapproves of the affair and brings Emily's cousins to town to stop the relationship. One day, Emily is seen buying arsenic at the drugstore, and the town thinks that Homer is giving her "The Shaft," and that she plans to kill herself.

When she buys a bunch of men's items, they think that she and Homer are going to get married. Homer leaves town, then the cousins leave town, and then Homer comes back. He is last seen entering Miss Emily's house. Emily herself rarely leaves the home after that, except for a period of half a dozen years when she gives painting lessons.

Her hair turns gray, she gains weight, and she eventually dies in a downstairs bedroom that hasn't seen light in many years. The story cycles back to where it began, at her funeral. Tobe, Ms. Emily's servant, lets in the town women and then leaves by the backdoor forever. After the funeral, and after Emily is buried, the townspeople go upstairs to break into the room that they know has been closed for forty years.

Inside, they find the corpse of Homer Barron, rotting in the bed. On the dust of the pillow next to Homer they find an indentation of a head, and in the indentation, one of Emily's gray hairs.

Character List

Emily Grierson - An eccentric recluse, Emily is a mysterious figure who changes from a vibrant and hopeful young girl to a cloistered and secretive old woman. Devastated and alone after her father’s death, she is an object of pity for the townspeople. After a life of having potential suitors rejected by her father, she spends time after his death with a newcomer, Homer Barron, although the chances of his marrying her decrease as the years pass. Bloated and pallid in her later years, her hair turns steel gray. She ultimately poisons Homer and seals his corpse into an upstairs room.

Homer Barron - A foreman from the North. Homer is a large man with a dark complexion, a booming voice, and light-colored eyes. A gruff and demanding boss, he wins many admirers in Jefferson because of his gregarious nature and good sense of humor. He develops an interest in Emily and takes her for Sunday drives in a yellow-wheeled buggy. Despite his attributes, the townspeople view him as a poor, if not scandalous, choice for a mate. He disappears in Emily's house and decomposes in an attic bedroom after she poisons him. She sleeps with the corpse of Homer.

Judge Stevens - A mayor of Jefferson. Eighty years old, Judge Stevens attempts to delicately handle the complaints about the smell emanating from the Grierson property. To be respectful of Emily’s pride and former position in the community, he and the aldermen decide to sprinkle lime on the property in the middle of the night.

Mr. Grierson - Emily's father. Mr. Grierson is a controlling, looming presence even in death, and the community clearly sees his lasting influence over Emily. He deliberately thwarts Emily's attempts to find a husband in order to keep her under his control. We get glimpses of him in the story: in the crayon portrait kept on the gilt-edged easel in the parlor, and silhouetted in the doorway, horsewhip in hand, having chased off another of his daughter's suitors.

Colonel Sartoris - A former mayor of Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris absolves Emily of any tax burden after the death of her father, which later causes consternation to succeeding generations of town leaders.

Narrator - The first-person narrative voice of the story is one of the new generation of citizens in Jefferson who is involved with dealing with Emily. He begins his story after attending Emily's funeral.

Themes

Resistance to change - Perhaps the most recurrent theme in the story. Despite the family's fallen fortunes, Emily's father resists allowing any suitors to propose to Emily. This gradually erodes her chances of ever being married. She eventually settles for Homer, but the townspeople see this as an affront to her noble heritage, and she eventually murders Homer and dies a recluse. Emily's inability to realize her father's death and refusal to adapt to a changing world intensify her seclusion.

Adaptations

References

Bibliography

External links