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A Rose for Emily

By: William Faulkner

Prepared by:
Hannah Camille P. Santos
Jeremie T. Realino
Reblen Mirc C. Uy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

American writer William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, in 1897. He was
a Nobel Prize–winning novelist of the American South who wrote challenging prose and created
the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. He is best known for such novels as 'The Sound and the
Fury' and 'As I Lay Dying.

GENRE: Southern Gothic

Although inspired by Gothic literature, Southern Gothic does not dwell on suspense and
the supernatural. Rather, there is a dark humor in the stories. It follows the idea of exposing the
problems of society, but does so by developing complex characters. The authors explores the
behaviors of people (usually strange) and the social order of the South. Through their stories, the
authors hoped to show that the social order was fragile, and the realities behind it were actually
disturbing. The authors work to point out truths of Southern culture and its moral shortcomings.
The themes of this genre are developed around these goals.
The stories of Southern Gothic are, of course, set in the South. They may take place on a
plantation, old slave quarters or broken-down towns. There are many Southern elements in the
stories, including dialect, habits and personalities. The history of the South is represented through
the settings of the stories.
The characters are usually complex, and many of them are mentally unstable. Many of the
characters are broken in spirit and struggling to find a place in society once again. The morality of
characters is often questioned. Through their characters, the authors examine the harm that people
can do to each other. There are also many characters that are seen as innocent, such as the mentally
handicapped, and there is a struggle for their place in the world. Whether mentally unstable, dark
or innocent, the characters try to make sense of the world around them and the society in which
they live.
The plots of Southern Gothic stories can be disturbing and some do include supernatural
elements. They often contain ironic events as a writing style. Many of the events contained in the
stories are linked to racism, violence and poverty.

DATE OF PUBLICATION: April 30, 1930


CHARACTERS:

• Ms. Emily Grierson – the protagonist, the object of fascination in the story. 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 – the antagonist, 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 kills him.

• 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 Emily’s suitors.

• Col. Sartoris – A former mayor of Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris absolves Emily of any tax burden
after the death of her father. His elaborate and benevolent gesture is not heeded by the succeeding
generation of town leaders

• 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.

• Tobe – Emily’s servant. Tobe, his voice supposedly rusty from lack of use, is the only lifeline
that Emily has to the outside world. For years, he dutifully cares for her and tends to her needs.
Eventually the townspeople stop grilling him for information about Emily. After Emily’s death,
he walks out the back door and never returns.

SETTING (TIME):
Around (1861-1865) when Emily was born to late 1920s or early 1930s when she died.

SETTING (PLACE):
In an old house in Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi
SUMMARY:

The story, told in five sections, opens in with an unnamed narrator describing the funeral
of Miss Emily Grierson. This story is narrated through a first person’s point of view, with the voice
of the average townspeople. He notes that while the men attend the funeral out of obligation, the
women go primarily because no one has been inside Emily’s house for years. The narrator
describes what was once a grand house ‘‘set on what had once been our most select street.’’
Emily’s origins are aristocratic, but both her house and the neighborhood have deteriorated. The
narrator remarks that prior to her death, Emily had been ‘‘a sort of hereditary obligation upon the
town.’’ This is because Colonel Sartoris, the former mayor of the town, remitted Emily’s taxes
dating from the death of her father “on into perpetuity.’’ Apparently, Emily’s father left her with
nothing when he died. Colonel Sartoris invented a story explaining the remittance of Emily’s taxes,
which is the town’s way of repaying the loan to her father, to save her from the embarrassment of
accepting charity.
When Miss Emily was young, her father chased away all the men that were in love with
her. The summer after the death of his father, she fell in love with a Yankee (man from North) by
the name of Homer Barron. Everyone in the town was gossiping about their relationship and
questioning if they were getting married. They stopped seeing Homer for a while. When he did
return they thought that Emily’s marriage was on the way. But nothing came about. Years sped by
and Ms. Emily grew old, her hair turned iron-gray, and her body became fat.
Miss Emily died years later; the townsmen did not know that she was sick. After the decent
burial they gave for Miss Emily, they entered the mysterious house and went to see the locked
room. When they opened the room it was full of dust. They gave details that the “room decked and
furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights,
upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things backed with
tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured.” They also saw a man’s
collar, tie, suit, shoes, and discarded socks. The most shocking thing was that lying right in the bed
was the man; the body had once lain in the position of an embrace. The story said “What was left
of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in
which is lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and
biding dust.” Then the townsmen noticed that in the second pillow beside the man was the
indentation of a head, and one of them lifted something from it and they saw a long strand of iron-
gray hair.

MORAL LESSON:

William Faulkner once said, “Given a choice between grief and nothing, I'd choose grief”.
He further explains why he’d do this in “A Rose for Emily”; although the story is not about him,
he details the loneliness and selfishness of a poor woman, Miss Emily. Miss Emily is unable to
grip the idea of death and suffers great deals of denial. The author’s idea of grieving is clear in this
story because he showed his audience that it is better to accept death than to ignore it through the
accounts of Miss Emily’s journey.
The hidden message that he tried to convey in his story was the themes of death and change.
Death looms through the story from the beginning right on through to the end as the narrator begins
describing the beginning of Miss Emily’s funeral. She was so afraid that death and changes would
rule her entire life as his father does which led her into dark choices, she assumed to be right.
Thus, this short story teaches us to value and practice acceptance, facing fears, adapting to
changes and moving forward. Because in a dangerous world we live in right now where change is
inevitable, the more we let go and learn from our past, the easier for us to have better life choices
and the more we become better for ourselves and the people around us.

THEMES:

The main themes of the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner are isolation,
privacy and the conflict between past and change. These themes are enhanced through motifs like
death and taxes or compassion.
The theme of isolation pervades the whole narrative as the story follows a character who
is initially isolated from suitors by her father and from most of the society by her higher status,
and, subsequently, resorts to self-imposed isolation. As a young woman, Emily only lived with her
father and never seemed to engage in relationships with the community because “the Griersons
held themselves a little too high”. However, upon the death of her father, Emily begins to willingly
isolate herself from society as she begins to go in public rarer and rarer. Her isolation is disrupted
occasionally.
The theme of privacy is explored in the short story through the relationship between Emily
and the townspeople. Although Emily wants to isolate herself from the local society by refusing
to exit her house, the townspeople never really let her do that.
The conflict between past and change or present is dealt with in the story in a very
comprehensive way. Firstly, the author illustrates this theme through the depictions of both social
and physical setting. Emily’s Old South house has become one of the last standing among “garages
and cotton gins” which are symbols of modernity and change. Consequently, this conflict is even
visible visually. Then, the extensive descriptions of the social setting and social attitudes also
capture the same conflict.

MEANING OF THE TITLE:

“[The title] was an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who had 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.”
– William Faulkner