Essays On A Rose For Emily By William Faulkner

Book Report Essay: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” was originally published in the April 30, 1930. An unnamed narrator describes the strange circumstances of Emily’s life and her strange relationships with her father, her lover, and the horrible mystery she conceals. The action takes place in the town of Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha. Jefferson is a critical setting in much of Faulkner’s fiction. The principal themes of the story are: bitterness, resentment, generation gap, disillusionment and suppressed forbidden love.

The story helps understand the human psyche. The author touches various issues connected with dark aspects of human life. In Faulkner’s position I cannot find absolute evil or good. Both those aspects form human soul.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” tells a reader how a spinster is hoarding the body of the killed lover. The story deals with a murder caused by possessive love, showing the face of death which results in repulsion and compassion. The woman not only took away her lover’s life, she also kept the dead body in her house. As a result, I understand that she punished him by eternal life with her. Emily had a husband for her own. While reading this story, I witnessed that Emily was not afraid of dying. The death made an agreement with Emily which was based on life for life principle. Emily had to give her own freedom and personality. The author shows how death can reveal human secrets and mysteries and change indifference into sympathy.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a story of a woman who has killed her lover and lain for years beside his decaying body.

“A Rose for Emily is trivial in its horror and a psychopathological case story which is able to titillate readers. I consider that the horror is meaningful in this story.

Emily can be described as a conscious woman who possesses freedom of decision and independence of spirit. Emily perceives the world on her own rules. Her conduct shows impressive and remarkable aspects in her personality. Her actions are based on decisions of value.

The main concept of the story is that if a person resists change, he/she must love and live with death. Consequently, nobody must resist or fully accept change. Death is first described in the first paragraph of the story. Then it is repeated in the tale, including the death of her father, of Colonel Sartoris, and finally of Homer Barron. Homer Barron is a largely flat character. He plays an integral part, for it is he that supplies the cadaver so imperative to the plot. According to the collective narrator, he is “a Northerner, a day laborer,” “a big, dark, ready man,” he laughs a lot, and he curses “the niggers” (Faulkner, 669). Emily’s figure is controversial. The story makes the reader create around Emily an aura of elevated meanings, to perceive her as an impressive and symbolic figure. While reading the story, one can feel pressure among different ways of perceiving the main character. There is no doubt that Emily committed a pathological murder. I consider that the most impressive moment of the story is the picture of lover’s poisoning and later, the harboring of his dissolving body for a long period (forty years). Emily was treating the corpse of her dead lover as still living for several years. William Faulkner constructed the image of the woman whose contact with reality was insufficient. Emily’s borderline between reality and fantasy was blurred.

Emily is struggling with her generation, life and traditions in the Old South.

In this story the author’s language predicts and builds up to the climax of the story. Faulkner’s choice of words is descriptive. “A Rose for Emily” begins with death, turns to the near distant past. Consequently, it leads on to the decease of a woman and the traditions of the past she personified in the story.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is considered to be a multi-layered masterpiece. The author uses the language, characterization, and chronology, a psychological narrative, and a sober commentary.

The author begins his story at the end. The reader finds out that Miss Emily died. That is, why I can conclude that death is one of the principal themes in this tale which helps us understand the borderline between life and death, value of parents, lovers in our lives. The death of two people close to Emily, influence her character. Her father and her lover die. When Emily’s father dies, the people try to advise her to bury him. Only after three days she understood he must be buried. Everybody begins to feel sorry for Emily. The only thing left to this woman is the house where she lives alone and pauper. Consequently, she becomes sick.

Miss Emily’s house represents “stubborn and coquettish decay” above new generations and traditions, “an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner, 666). The house has been closed to the public for ten years. It “smelled of dust and disuse – a closed, dank smell”, and when visitors were seated a “faint dust” rose “sluggishly about their thighs” (Faulkner, 667). At the climate ending Emily is described to be a woman, who “looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water and of that pallid hue” (667). While reading this story I could feel that her “voice was dry and cold” (667). I suppose that Faulkner flashed back in time in order to reveal the circumstances that led to death. The first suspected episode that caught my curiosity is the mention of “the smell”, which occurred “thirty years before” (667). During the whole story the author kept his readers guessing the significance of the “smell”.

The author also hints at the tragic ending while describing the death of Emily’s father, of Colonel Sartoris: “She told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner, 669). And then, the unknown narrator comments: “We didn’t say she was crazy then” (669). The author alludes to the tragic end when Miss Emily purchased the arsenic, she looked through her “cold, haughty black eyes…” (Faulkner,670).

In conclusion I may say that Emily was not afraid of dying. She was not understood by her contemporaries. Her father was a stubborn man who thought that no one was good enough for his daughter. He drove away all the young men who were interested in his daughter. And when Emily fell in love with Homer Barron, later she found out he liked men and was not a “marrying man”. All these factors resulted in Emily’s decision to choose death as the only possible means.


1. Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: The Human Experience. 8th ed. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 666–672.
2. Allen, Dennis W. “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.'” Modern Fiction Studies 30, 4 (1984): 685-96.
3. Inge, M. Thomas, ed. William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily. The Merrill Literary Casebook Series. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill, 1970.
4. Barnes, Daniel R. “Faulkner’s Miss Emily and Hawthorne’s Old Maid.” Studies in Short Fiction 9 (1972): 373-77.
5. Rodgers, Lawrence R. “‘We All Said, “She Will Kill Herself”’: The Narrator/Detective in William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” Clues: A Journal of Detection 16.1 (Spring-Summer 1995): 117-29.

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In “A Rose For Emily,” William Faulkner imitates associative Southern storytelling style as an unnamed first-person narrator speaks for the entire town of Jefferson, relating what all the townspeople know or believe. Unlike typical Faulkner stories that employ multiple individual narrators, “A Rose for Emily” achieves the effect of multiple narrators by combining them into a single narrative voice, an unnamed (and not always consistent) narrator. First-person plural pronouns emphasize that this narrator represents the consciousness of the town. This style is similar to that used in Greek tragedy, wherein chorus and chorus leader provide the reader/audience with information, interpret the characters’ actions, and express public opinion; thus, the narrator in “A Rose for Emily,” whose age and gender are never identified, can be designated a choric character.

The narrative sequence in this story is not chronological; the reader learns Miss Emily’s history in much the same way a newcomer to Jefferson might hear about her history. As the story opens, Miss Emily apparently has just died, and the townspeople are discussing her strange and sad life. Faulkner relates various incidents in her life, but these incidents are related thematically, not chronologically. Faulkner builds suspense by imitating the southern storyteller’s style of describing people and events through situation-triggered memories; hence, the plot is associative rather than chronological.

The story’s primary theme—the destructive effects of time, most notably change and decay—is familiar to readers of Faulkner. Change is Miss Emily’s enemy, so she refuses to acknowledge it, whether that change is the death of her father, the arrival of tax bills, the decay of her house, or even the beginning of residential mail delivery. Furthermore, her attitude toward the death of her father (and later the death of Colonel Sartoris) foreshadows her attitude toward the death of Homer Barron. Because Miss Emily is associated with the passage of time (her ticking watch is concealed in her bosom—heard but never seen), one might consider her to be living outside the normal limitations of time or, perhaps, simply not existing. Thus, she appears to combine life and death in her own person.

A minor theme in the story is the social structure of the early twentieth century American South, as it is being eroded by the industrialized New South. To avoid embarrassing Miss Emily, Colonel Sartoris devises a convoluted explanation of Jefferson’s pre-Civil War debt to the Griersons, but this same man, also, had authored an edict that any African American woman appearing on Jefferson’s streets without an apron could be beaten. Likewise, to avoid appearing to give Miss Emily charity, the families of Jefferson send their young daughters to Miss Emily’s house for china-painting lessons. Most significant, though, is the change in Jefferson’s attitude toward the relationship between Miss Emily (a descendant of Southern gentility) and Homer (a working man, and a Northerner). Initially, the townspeople are horrified by their coupling, but gradually they come to accept Homer as a good choice for Miss Emily, perhaps as a matter of necessity.

Like most Faulkner stories, “A Rose for Emily” is highly symbolic. Miss Emily is described as a fallen monument to the chivalric American South. Reenforcing the themes of change and decay, her house, once an elegant mansion, has become a decaying eyesore in the middle of a neighborhood that has changed from residential to industrial. Another prominent symbol is the crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father, associated with the oppressive hold of the past on the present. Although less elegant than an oil portrait, the crayon portrait is important to Miss Emily, and it is seen by the rare visitor who enters her house.

The pseudo-chivalry of the townspeople comes out in several symbolic actions, such as when parents send their daughters to Miss Emily for china-painting lessons, when civic leaders spread lime around her yard to deal with the foul odor emanating from her house, and when Colonel Sartoris decrees that she will never have to pay local taxes. In contrast, Homer’s carriage—considered gaudy by the townspeople—symbolizes the difference between the town’s old-fashioned attitudes (reflective of the Old South) and Homer’s more modern one (reflective of the emerging New South).

In this gothic story, though, perhaps the most vivid symbols are the locked room in Miss Emily’s house and the long iron-gray hair found on a pillow inside. The room symbolizes the secrecy and mystery associated with Miss Emily’s house and her relationship with Homer. The location of the hair as well as its color and length suggest a continuing interaction between Miss Emily and the corpse of Homer, again indicating her refusal to acknowledge the finality of death.

In Faulkner’s youth, a popular literary genre was the reconciliation story, in which a Southern lady and a Northern man fall in love, thus helping to resolve the sectional conflict remaining after the Civil War. Faulkner’s story can be read as a reaction against this sentimentality. Faulkner never describes the actual relationship between Miss Emily and Homer; thus, readers must decide whether “A Rose for Emily” is a gothic psychological tale or a tragic story of unrequited love.

In various stories and novels, Faulkner focuses on both individuals and their cultural milieu, and he repeatedly uses Jefferson as a microcosm for the early twentieth century South. In “A Rose for Emily,” Jefferson also is a microcosm for the United States after World War I and its transition from an agrarian society to the beginnings of an urban-industrial society. The cotton gin near Miss Emily’s house bridges this transition, as it combines the cotton culture of the antebellum South with the emerging industrialism of the increasingly urban New South. The tension arising from the collision of these cultures has given rise to a creative outburst of which Faulkner and “A Rose for Emily” are significant parts.

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