A Rose For Emily and Other Short Stories


"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 county of Yoknapatawpha. 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 a 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

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 falls into 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, which takes her by surprise. She refuses to give up his corpse, and the townspeople write it off as her grieving process. The townspeople pity Emily not only after her father's death, but also during his life when he wouldn't let Emily marry.

After her father's death, the only person seen moving about Emily's home is a Black man, serving as Emily's butler, going in and out with a market basket. Although Emily did not have a strong relationship with her community, she did give art lessons to young children within her town. The townspeople even referred to her as Miss Emily as a sign of the respect that they had for her. With the acceptance of her father's death, Emily somewhat revives, even changing the style of her hair and becomes friendly with Homer Barron. He is 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. However, Homer claims that he is not a marrying man, but a bachelor. Emily shortly buys arsenic from a druggist in town, telling him that it will be used to kill rats. However, the townspeople are convinced that she will use it to poison herself. 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 itself 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 enter 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 gray hair, indicating that Emily had slept with Homer's corpse.


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.

Tobe - Emily's cook/gardner, who is also very likely her secret keeper: during the years of Emily's isolation, he provides no details of her life to the townspeople and promptly disappears directly following her death.


Faulker tells “A Rose for Emily” through flashbacks which bounce between decades, starting at the funeral of Miss Emily. By presenting the story through this structure, the voices of the townspeople become the clear narrator(s). The long time jumps prevent the narrator from being a single person as well as creating the sense of a folklore-type story that has been passed down over time and is now being told to the reader. This contributes to one of the popularly discussed themes of the story, resistance to change through Emily’s lack of evolution throughout the years.


"A Rose for Emily" discusses many dark themes that characterized the Old South and Southern Gothic fiction.

The story explores themes of death and resistance to change; they reflect the decaying of the societal tenants of the South in the 1930s. Emily Grierson had been oppressed by her father for most of her life and hadn’t questioned it because that was her way of living. Likewise, the antiquated traditions of the south (often harmful, such as in the treatment of black people) had remained acceptable, as that was their way of living. Once her father had passed, Emily, in denial, refused to give his corpse up for burial—this shows her inability to functionally adapt to change. When the present mayor and aldermen insist Miss Emily pay the taxes which she had been exempted from, she refuses and continues to live in her house[4]. Miss Emily's stubborn insistence that she "pays no taxes in Jefferson" and her mistaking the new mayor for Colonel Sartoris brings into question whether her acts of resistance are a conscious act of defiance or a result of a decayed mental stability. The reader is only shown Emily from an external perspective, we can not ascertain whether she acts in a rational manner or not. The death of Homer, if interpreted as having been a murder, can be seen in the context of the North-South clash. Homer, notably a northerner, is not one for the tradition of marriage. In the framework that his death was not an accident, but a murder on the part of Emily, Homer's rejection of the can be seen as the North's rejection of Southern tradition. The South ends its relations with the North in retaliation. Emily continuing to sleep next to Homer's body can be seen as the south holding on to an ideal that is no longer feasible.

Control and its repercussions is a persistent theme throughout the story. Emily's father was an intimidating and manipulative figure, keeping her from experiencing life in her own terms. 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.".[5] Emily is portrayed as small and powerless, placed behind the overbearing frame of her father. She wears white, a symbol of innocence and purity. Emily falls victim to the ruling hand of her father and to her place in society society: she has to uphold the noblesse oblige to which she was born into.[6] In this way, her father's influence remains after he has passed. This control leads to Emily's isolation, both externally and internally imposed. Emily is alone, yet always being watched by the townspeople; she is both apart from and a part of the community.[7] Her position prevents her from ever finding happiness.

The power of death is a consistent theme throughout the story. Emily herself is portrayed as a "skeleton" that is both "small and spare" which is representative of the fact that she emanates death. When it comes to death itself, Emily is in denial and most of that feeling has to do with her loneliness. After her father dies, she keeps his corpse for three days and refuses to admit that he is dead. The reader also sees this with the corpse of Homer Barron, except she is the won who inflicts death upon him. She poisons him and keeps him locked away in her room; she did not want to lose the only other person she had ever loved, so she made his stay permanent. These examples show that the power of death triumphs everything, including "poor Emily", herself.[8]

Critical response

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

  • A Rose for Emily—PBS adaptation with Anjelica Huston.
  • My Chemical Romance's song "To The End" from Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2005) loosely retells the story of Homer and Miss Emily.
  • The Zombies' song "A Rose for Emily" retells the story, and is about a strong theme present in the story: Miss Emily living and dying alone, unloved.[12]
  • Andrea Camilleri has a similar theme in his novel The Scent of the Night influencing his character Detective Salvo Montalbano.
  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. ^ Reference 5
  5. ^ Kennedy, X.J. (2016). Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. p. 32. 
  6. ^ "Crytical Analysis Essay on "A Rose for Emily"". AnalysisEssay.org. 2012-12-22. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  7. ^ "A Rose for Emily Themes - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  8. ^ Kim, Ji-won (2011). "Narrator as Collective 'We':The Narrative Structure of "A Rose for Emily"". English Language and Literature Teaching.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  9. ^ Watkins, Floyd C. "Structure of "A Rose for Emily"." Modern Language Notes 7th ser. 69 (1954): 508-10. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.
  10. ^ Skinner, John (Winter 1985). ""A Rose for Emily": Against Interpretation."". The Journal of Narrative Technique. 15.1: 42–51. 
  11. ^ Petry, Alice (Spring 1986). "Faulkner's A ROSE FOR EMILY". Explicator. 44: 52–54. 
  12. ^ Petridis, Alexis (17 April 2017). "The story behind A Rose for Emily – and why it's perfect for S-Town". The Guardian
  • Morton, Clay (2005). "'A Rose for Emily': Oral Plot, Typographic Story", Storytelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative 5.1.

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