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A Rose for Emily

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

Plot summary

“A Rose for Emily” is a short story divided into five sections: Section one opens with a description of the Grierson home and its setting in Jefferson. The narrator mentions that over the past 25 years Miss Emily’s home has fallen into despair and become “an eyesore among eyesores.” The first sentence of the story sets the tone of how the citizens of Jefferson felt about Emily: “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to the funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant–a combined gardener and cook–had seen in at least ten years.” The narrator also discusses the last time that Emily Grierson had guests in her home. After her father’s death, Colonel Sartoris had arranged so Miss Emily would never have to pay taxes. However, when a new council took over, they began to tax her once again. She never paid the taxes and refused to appear before the sheriff so the city authorities took it upon themselves to go to her home. When confronted on her tax evasion, Miss Emily reminded them that she paid no taxes in Jefferson and if there were further problems to speak to Colonel Sartoris, who had died ten years before.

Section two reveals to us that the Grierson family is a very proud Southern family, which has had its fair share of unusual characters. The audience learns that Mr. Grierson, Emily’s father, being a proud man, never believed any was good enough for his daughter and would chase them away. When he died, Emily would not allow the authorities to remove his dead body for three days, claiming that he is still alive . This section also mentions that two years after her father’s death, when her father left her, a strange smell came from the Grierson home.

In the third section, the narrator reveals some information about Emily’s beau. His name was Homer Barron and he was a foreman from the north. He came to Jefferson with a crew of men to build sidewalks outside the Grierson home. After Emily and Homer had been seen driving through town several times, Emily went to visit a druggist. When there she asked to buy some poison, specifically requesting arsenic. The druggist asks her what it is for however she doesn’t respond. (The druggist treated her like a celebrity -- with bias. He didn't ask for her purpose, therefore, he is also responsible for the event that is to come. When Miss Emily's servant brought the box to her, it was labeled, "For Rats.")

The fourth section opens with the citizens of Jefferson under the belief that Miss Emily is going to kill herself due to the fact that Homer has not yet asked her to marry him. The townspeople take it upon themselves to contact some of Miss Emily’s cousins to come and comfort her. Shortly after their arrival, Homer leaves (the narrator tells us this is because the cousins are even more Grierson-like, or proud, than Miss Emily or her father were) and when they leave, he returns. The narrator tells us that after Homer comes back to Jefferson one night, he is never seen again. And it is simply believed that Mr. Grierson’s spirit was “too virulent and too furious to die” and drove him away. Since Homer’s disappearance, Emily Grierson began to age, gain weight and was rarely seen outside of her home. This section ends with Miss Emily’s death.

The final section begins with the women of Jefferson entering the Grierson home. After their arrival, the black man who had been taking care of Miss Emily leaves without saying a word to anyone. A funeral is held and immediately after the townspeople go through the house. They arrive at a room which no one had seen in forty years and break its door down. Inside the dusty room they discover a bridal scene. The toilet set that Miss Emily had purchased for Homer years ago was there as well as a man’s tie, suit and shoes; all neatly folded but covered with dust. Inside the bed lay the remains of Homer Barron dressed in a nightshirt. On the pillow next to him was the impression of a head and the townsfolk found a single “long strand of iron-gray hair.” This reveals that not only had Miss Emily killed Homer but also had been sleeping next to Homer’s decaying body all these years (necrophilia).

Analysis

Narration

The narration of this story is told from what appears to be the point of view of a single person. However, the use of "we" in the narration suggests that this person is possibly speaking on behalf of the entire town, which is in line with the cultural character of the American South.

Chronology

Faulkner's chronology is unlike that of other writers of his time. He does not tell his story in linear fashion, but rather jumbles the sequential order. This technique builds suspense for the reader as the plot unfolds bit by bit. The reader must double as detective as each piece of the puzzle is revealed throughout the story. This writing style was not common during Faulkner's time.

Southern Aristocracy

Southern Aristocracy is a major theme in many of Faulkner's stories, including "A Rose for Emily." Many of the same characters from the upper class appear in several of Faulkner's works.

Death and Necrophilia

The two elements in this story that make it Gothic Fiction are death and necrophilia. Although death is almost a given in any gothic work, necrophilia, the sexual attraction to corpses, is the outstanding grotesque element in this short story.

Gothic Traits

This short story exhibits many factors of the Southern Gothic style. For example, the helpless damsel in distress (Emily) meets her white knight (Homer) and instead of being rescued, actually condemns her own fate. Homer exhibits some signs of racial bigotry, a common trait of the Southern Gothic.

Adaptations

A short film adaptation can be seen here Many short films have been made by literature classes and aspiring directors and can be viewed on

The story was adapted for a longer length film as well in 1987 by Chubby Cinema Company, and has since been released as a 27-minute video. The cast includes Anjelica Huston, John Houseman, John Randolph, John Carradine and Jared Martin.

Bibliography

  • Morton, Clay (2005). "'A Rose for Emily': Oral Plot, Typographic Story," Storytelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative 5.1.
  • http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/Faulkner-s-Short-Stories-A-Rose-for-Emily-Commentary.id-110,pageNum-5.html

External links

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