A Rose for Emily

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"A Rose for Emily"
Author William Faulkner
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Southern Gothic
Published in 1930

"A Rose for Emily" is a short story by American author William Faulkner, first published in the April 30, 1930, issue of The Forum. The story takes place in Faulkner's fictional city, Jefferson, Mississippi, in the fictional southern town of Yoknapatawpha County. It was Faulkner's first short story published in a national magazine.[1]


Faulkner described his reasoning for the title "A Rose For Emily" as an allegorical title; this woman had undergone great tragedy, for this Faulkner pitied her. And as a salute, he handed her a rose.[2] The word rose in the title has multiple meanings to it. The rose may be seen as Homer, interpreting the rose as a dried rose. Homer's body could be the dried rose, such as one that is pressed between the pages of a book, kept in perfect condition as Emily did with Homer's body.[3] The "Rose" also represents secrecy. Roses have been portrayed in Greek legends as a gift of secrecy and of confidentiality, known as Sub rosa, introducing that the "Rose" is a symbol of silence between the narrator and Miss Emily, the narrator keeps Emily's secrets until her death.

Plot summary[edit]

The story opens with a brief first-person account of the funeral of Emily Grierson, an elderly Southern woman whose funeral is the obligation of their small town. It then proceeds in a non-linear fashion to the narrator's recollections of Emily's archaic and increasingly strange behavior throughout the years. Emily is a member of a family of the antebellum Southern aristocracy. After the Civil War, the family has fallen on hard times. She and her father, the last two of the clan, continue to live as if in the past; Emily’s father refuses for her to marry. Her father dies when Emily is about the age of 30, and takes her by surprise. She refused to give up his corpse, and the townspeople wrote it off as her grieving process.

After her acceptance of her father's death, Emily somewhat revives; she becomes friendly with Homer Barron, a Northern laborer who comes to town shortly after Mr. Grierson’s death. The connection surprises some of the community while others are glad she is taking an interest. But Homer claims that he is not a marrying man—a bachelor. Emily shortly buys arsenic from a druggist in town, which convinces the townspeople she was to poison herself with it. Emily’s distant cousins are called into town by the minister’s wife to supervise Miss Emily and Homer Barron. Homer leaves town for some time, reputedly to give Emily a chance to get rid of her cousins, and returns three days later after the cousins have left. Homer is never seen again.

Despite these turnabouts in her social status, Emily continues to behave haughtily, as she had before her father died. Her reputation is such that the city council finds themselves unable to confront her about a strong smell that has begun to emanate from the house. Instead, they decide to send men to her house under the cover of darkness to sprinkle lime around the house, after which the smell dissipates. The mayor of the town, Colonel Sartoris, made a gentleman's agreement to overlook her taxes as an act of charity, though it was done under a pretense of repayment towards her father to assuage Emily's pride after her father had died. Years later, when the next generation has come to power, Emily insists on this informal arrangement, flatly refusing that she owes any taxes; the council declines to press the issue. Emily has become a recluse: she is never seen out of the house, and only rarely accepts people into it. The community comes to view her as a "hereditary obligation" on the town, who must be humored and tolerated.

The funeral is a large affair; Emily had become an institution, so her death sparks a great deal of curiosity about her reclusive nature and what remains of her house. After she is buried, a group of townsfolk enters her house to see what remains of her life there. The door to her upstairs bedroom is locked; some of the townsfolk kick in the door to see what has been hidden for so long. Inside, among the possessions that Emily had bought for Homer, lies the decomposed corpse of Homer Barron on the bed; on the pillow beside him is the indentation of a head and a single strand of Emily's gray hair.


Emily Grierson - The main character of the story. Emily's father kept her from seeing suitors and controlled her social life, essentially keeping her in isolation until his death, when she is 30 years old. Her struggle with loss and attachment is the impetus for the plot.

Homer Barron - Emily's romantic interest, he is later found dead and decomposed in Emily's bedroom after her funeral.

The Narrator - An unnamed member(s) of the town who watched the events of Emily's life unfold in its entirety.

Colonel Sartoris - The former mayor who remitted Emily's taxes.

Mr. Grierson - Emily's father, the patriarchal head of the Grierson family, who was well respected in the town. His control over Emily's personal life prohibited her from romantic involvement.

The cousins - Emily's extended relatives, they come to town during Emily's courting of Homer Barron to check on Emily's well-being.


Faulkner tells this story in a series of flashbacks and stretches the story out over decades. By presenting the story in terms of present and past events he can examine how they influence each other. Faulkner presents two visions of time in the story; one based on mathematical precision and one that is more subjective. In terms of mathematical precision, time moves on and what exists is only the present. In terms of the more subjective time, time moves on but memories can exist no matter how much time changes. Those memories stay unhindered. Through this Faulkner could analyze the depth at which Miss Emily as a character could change.[4]


"A Rose for Emily" discusses many dark themes that characterized the Old South. Death is an important theme because it thematically reflects the decaying of the South in the 1930s by relating it to Emily's need to cling to tradition by sleeping next to the corpse of Homer Barron. There is also a reference to the stagnant mindset of the Old South in their inability to initially accept Homer Barron, a Northerner, into their lives.

Resistance is a strong underlying theme in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”. Emily Grierson has been oppressed by her father for most of her life and hasn’t questioned it because that was her way of living. Once her father has passed, she refuses to give his corpse up for burial—this resistance shows her unwillingness to adapt to change. Emily is portrayed as a victim which is why the reader is able to forgive her for her felony of murdering Homer Barron later on in the story. She falls victim to the ruling hand of her father, and to society; she has to uphold the noblesse oblige to which she was born into.[5]

Control is a persistent theme throughout the story. Emily's father was an intimidating and manipulative figure, keeping her from experiencing life the way she wanted it. She was never able to grow, learn, live her life, start a family, and marry the one she truly loved. Even after Emily's father died, his presence and impact on his daughter was still apparent. Discussing Emily and her father, the townspeople said "We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door.".[6] Emily is small, powerless, and in the background wearing white, a symbol of innocence and purity. The controlling and powerful nature of her father is shown, he is in the foreground of the painting taking up space, holding a horsewhip, standing in with his legs apart, and silhouetted in black.

Another theme that characterizes the story is the isolation that Emily makes for herself, juxtaposed with the interest of the town in the life of Emily. Emily is alone, yet always being watched by the townspeople. She is both isolated and a part of the community.[7] Not only is Emily always being observed by the townspeople, but her father is still watching her although he has passed. He contributes to her isolation because while he was alive and even after he had passed, he pushes away the suitors who could have loved Miss Emily.

The theme of time is also represented by this story, "A Rose for Emily". This story established two opposing attitudes about time against each other, the North and South each representing a generation. condemning them both.The world of the present and the world of tradition. This theme is represented by the North and the South. Homer, who represents the North, portrays the world of the present and the new generation. Miss Emily represents the South and the old generation. The South expresses the refusal to accept the present and the clinging onto the past, the world of tradition.[8]

The themes in this story all tie into each other and create the character that Miss Emily is. The theme of death describes how Miss Emily cannot let go of death that she has been dealing with. This death theme also describes the Old South during that time. The old Southern ways are slowly dying just as her life is crumbling apart. Her father died and she kept his decaying corpse with her and then shortly after, she did the same thing with Homer. This is a sign of isolation from everyone else in society. Everyone has left her and the people that really connected with her were gone in a short amount of time. Miss Emily killed Homer in fear that he would leave her just as her father did. Everyone seemed to push Miss Emily away in the town, that is why her isolation reached such an extreme level. Miss Emily is reaching out for help because she keeps hiding corpses in her house. She cannot deal with the loss of the people that are closest to her.[9]

Critical Response[edit]

Floyd C. Watkins wrote about the structure of "A Rose for Emily" in "Modern Language Notes". Watkins claims that this is Faulkner's best story and is among the best American writers of this time period. Faulkner had to carefully dissect his sections, bringing importance to every aspect of Miss Emily's life, but Watkins sees this as a "structural problem" but later goes on to rave about the symmetry of this short story. Watkins enjoys this story in its entirety, and is impressed by Faulkner's ordering, as building suspense was an important aspect in the response.[10]

This critical response by John Skinner explores the interpretations of Faulkner’s short story in detail while reviewing the importance of over analyzing a piece of literary work. William Faulkner published this story in the 1930s, Skinner had published his critical response in 1985. More than 40 years has passed and people are still ignoring his claim; “A Rose for Emily” should not be interpreted any further. The characters and theme of this tale have been scrutinized by many. There have been numerous interpretations for what Miss Emily stands for; Skinner gives examples of scholars including S.W. M. Johnson “Emily represented a refusal to submit to, or even concede, the inevitability of change”. Whereas William Going pictures Emily as a rose, “the treasured memory of the confederate veterans”. The point of view according to Skinner, is of immediate relevance to the story as the chief character, the narrator tells the chronology of the story. This narrator gives approximately “round figures” for the important events of the accounts. Yet the exact chronology is of little relevance to the overall importance of the story itself. John Skinner states that Faulkner should be taken literally, appreciate his formal subtlety in his works.[11]

Alice Petry introduces a different type of critical response that is not focused on the usual subjects. Rather, she focuses on the complex and provocative language. For example, Hall discusses how the sentence, "Thus she passed from generation to generation-dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil and perverse" has been considered misleading, but is in fact strategically placed to provide foreshadowing and unification of plot. The five descriptive words used in the sentence each correspond to one of the five parts in the order they are seen. For example, the adjective "inescapable" corresponds to Part II, to the incident of the strange smell coming from Miss Emily's home. Faulkner's placement of these adjectives at the end of Part IV serves as an important unifying sentence that connects all five parts to each other.[12]



  1. ^ "WFotW ~ "A Rose for Emily": COMMENTARY & RESOURCES". www.mcsr.olemiss.edu. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  2. ^ Introducción a la narrativa breve de William Faulkner (in Spanish). 
  3. ^ Getty, Laura (Summer 2005). "Faulkner's A ROSE FOR EMILY" (PDF). The Explicator. 63: 230–234. 
  4. ^ "SparkNotes: A Rose for Emily: Time and Temporal Shifts". www.sparknotes.com. 
  5. ^ "Crytical Analysis Essay on "A Rose for Emily"". AnalysisEssay.org. 2012-12-22. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  6. ^ Kennedy, X.J. (2016). Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. p. 32. 
  7. ^ "A Rose for Emily Themes - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  8. ^ Vartany, Edwin (2011). "Time's Mathematical Progression in William Faulkner's A ROSE FOR EMILY". Explicator. 69: 189–192. 
  9. ^ "Theme of Death in William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily". Bartleby. [unreliable source?]
  10. ^ Watkins, Floyd C. "Structure of "A Rose for Emily"." Modern Language Notes 7th ser. 69 (1954): 508-10. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.
  11. ^ Skinner, John (Winter 1985). ""A Rose for Emily": Against Interpretation."". The Journal of Narrative Technique. 15.1: 42–51. 
  12. ^ Petry, Alice (Spring 1986). "Faulkner's A ROSE FOR EMILY". Explicator. 44: 52–54. 
  13. ^ "The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle". 


  • Morton, Clay (2005). "'A Rose for Emily': Oral Plot, Typographic Story", Storytelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative 5.1.