The Mysteries of William Faulkner Writing In “A Rose for Emily”
Short Summary of A Rose for Emily
A Rose for Emily published in the Forum magazine on April 30, 1930, is a story written by American writer William Faulkner. The events occur in Jefferson City (Mississippi state), in an imaginary county of Yoknapatawpha that the author came up with himself. This was the first Faulkner short story published in a reputable national journal.
But that is not a correct introduction for this story. William Faulkner is not just an author of A Rose for Emily — he is a legendary persona in world literature who contributed immensely to describing social breakdown after the Civil War. In his works, the writer explored such themes as violence, human decay, terror, mental illness, dark minds, and the unwillingness of society to understand or even notice all these concepts. This eventually brought him a Nobel Prize in literature.
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So, have you ever read the story A Rose for Emily in much detail? Continue reading for a detailed explanation and analysis of the book. You'll need all the information if your essay on A Rose for Emily is due soon.
So, the story begins with discovering Miss Emily Grierson's death. She was a hermit who lived alone with a black servant in a huge mansion in the town. Despite its pinky and optimistic title, 'A Rose for Emily' is a gloomy text full of the themes mentioned above: dilapidated estate of 'once great aristocratic family,' a corpse of Homer Barron lying in bed being 'loved' for decades, and a mentally disturbed woman Emily Grierson 'loved by her father' into loneliness and necrophilia.
From the first point of view, William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily is a pretty simple story. It's short and has only a handful of characters who each have very limited and specific roles: Mr. Grierson and his daughter Miss Emily Grierson — their job is to be noble and important; Emily's beloved low-class Homer Barron, who she kills to keep around her forever, although Emily refuses to admit it after he passes away; Colonel Sartoris that exempts them from paying city taxes; the unbearable cousins that arrive for Emily's rescue when she falls in love with a 'nobody Homer' and, finally, all the townspeople — that are shocked when they find out after the funeral what atrocities were going on in Emily's house for decades.
And then there is the narrator, who introduces William Faulkner's short story to the readers. The narrator is a compilation of different men and women of Jefferson town who each have their own theory and a story about Emily's life. The plot goes back and forth, operating on memories, stereotypes, and bits and pieces of information that are not easy to put together until the end. The events wind up in a gothic whirl of a dark and scary story whose main topic can be described as a resistance to changes and the habit of generations to think 'as we used to think it' and do 'as our parents used to do it.'
A Rose for Emily Analysis
Faulkner is famous for the writing techniques that make his suspenseful stories even more mystique and gripping. One such technique employed in this book is a complete lack of chronology in how the events unfold from chapter to chapter and a constant shift of the author's focus from the reader guessing one phenomenon or character to the other. To understand the story better, read the chronological order of the events below. Hopefully, it will help you unwind the plot threads and place all the ducks (events in the story) in a row.
But for now, let's focus on the core meaning of this story. Who are its main actors? The narrator describes the protagonist Emily Grierson as a lonely, reserved, and stubborn old lady who lives in the past. She is a textbook example of social injustice and unwillingness to change. Her father, Mr. Grierson, was once a successful Southern man who is now desperately clinging hard to whatever was left of his wealth and status after the war. He treats the whole town as if they belonged to him and doesn't want anybody to come near his daughter. In his example, the reader sees that even after slavery was renounced, previous slave owners were still respected by default and enjoyed several undeserved benefits. The author says in Chapter 4:
'Miss Emily's people were Episcopal,' as if the whole town belonged to Emily; she was simultaneously their symbol and pain.
The town is a character on its own — its thoughts and ideas, attitudes, and fears towards Emily and her family constitute a large portion of the entire story's events and maybe even serve as the main reason for the crooked behavior exhibited by the Grierson family they worshiped. The narration starts with memories of different men and women who lived in Jefferson and attended the funeral of the legendary Emily Grierson. At the beginning of Chapter 1, Faulkner presents his narrator's intentions to be at this 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.'
Their memories of Emily are confusing; they are broken and incomplete, come from different people, and have different levels of detail.
The story's title hints that despite all the atrocities described in the text, the author doesn't despise his character. Instead of blaming them, he wants to give her tribute, like a man does when he gives a flower to his lady. Inhabitants of Jefferson also desperately resisted thinking badly of her. In chapter 2, we read:
'When her father died, it got about that the house was all left to her; in a way, people were glad. At last, they could pity Miss Emily.'
The town considered her weird; they judged her when Emily fell in love with the construction worker Homer, but they couldn't even imagine that she could have murdered him when her house started to smell bad.
Through this book, Faulkner demonstrates that in the world, there are people who do unpleasant things to change history and those who would do everything to avoid unpleasant things. Faulkner's characters are divided into two categories: those who want to avoid dealing with Emily at all costs (Colonel Sartoris, who exempts the weird lady from taxes, the pharmacist who doesn't ask Emily what she will use the arsenic for, or the new mayor Judge Stevens who sends four men to quietly sprinkle lime around her cellar and yard to eradicate the smell) and those who want to find excuses to worship her.
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A Rose for Emily in Chronological Order
Sometimes around Civil War: Emily Grierson is born, her father (who is never nReading the story is like reading the minds of Jefferson's inhabitants. And it's unclear whether the darkness was all about Emily — or maybe the small pieces of everybody's flaws covered this story with horror. After all, there is a little piece of weirdness in all of us.
Sometimes around the Civil War: Emily Grierson is born, and her father (who is never named in the text) is a controlling and invasive man who thinks too highly of his origins. He isolates her from social interaction, making the town inhabitants even more interested in her. They think of her as an idol and a symbol of their settlement.
Despite slowly losing their wealth and status, the Grierson family is seen riding in a fancy carriage and is still perceived as a trophy and pride of Jefferson.
Around 1894, Emily's father died, but she kept it a secret for three days. We know this date because in 1894, shortly after her father died, Emily was exempted by mayor Colonel Sartoris from paying city taxes. The town chief told a story that Miss Emily's father loaned money to the city council, but nobody seemed to believe it. Despite giving music lessons to a few kids, Emily became increasingly estranged, encapsulating herself in her estate and not socializing with other citizens.
Summer after her father's death and when Emily was in her 30s: Homer Barron comes from the North seeking construction work in the town and starts a relationship with Emily. Townspeople disapprove of the inappropriate liaison between a noblewoman and a low-class nobody. They call on her two female cousins to come from Alabama to talk some sense into Emily.
Homer leaves town; then, their cousins also leave town.
One year after Emily and Barron's relationship began: Emily is seen buying rat poison. They think she wants to kill herself, and nobody seems to care much about it. But later, Emily also buys many male things: clothes engraved shaving kit. People think Emily and Barron might get married after all.
Three days after Emily's cousins leave town (the town population seems to think their character is even more difficult than Emily's), Barron returns but disappears immediately after.
2 years after her father's death: Emily's house smells bad. Everybody in the town notices it, but nobody dares to confront her. They spray lime around her house in the middle of the night, and the smell disappears after a week or so. Everybody forgot about the lady afterward — since there is no recollection or memory of her.
'The only sign of life about the place was the Negro man-a young man then-going in and out with a market basket.' (Chapter 2)
30 years later: New town chiefs (Board of Alderman) come to Emily's house (one of the few people from town leaders who came up to that mansion) to renounce a previous deal and make her pay the city taxes. She declares that she would do no such thing.
Emily dies around age 74. The entire town comes to Emily's funeral and recalls their memories and impressions about Miss Emily's life. After the funeral, people enter her house for the first time in ten years. Her servant lets them in and disappears. Upstairs in the bedroom, people find a corpse of Homer Barron and gray female hair on the pillow next to him.
To wrap up the 'A Rose for Emily' synopsis, Faulkner only provides a few vague indications and assumptions about Emily and Homer's connection, leaving the villagers excluded from her home and, in many ways, from her life to speculate about what transpired. We find ourselves in a similar situation. However, it seems reasonable to assume that Emily fell in love with Homer, who, it is implied, had no plan of getting married to her.
A Rose for Emily is frequently considered an illustration of Southern Gothic, a literary style used by authors in the American South whose works and manuscripts are marked by morbid, horrible, or gruesome aspects. Such fiction frequently includes a buildup of realist details, and Faulkner permits the atmosphere of bizarreness that permeates Emily's home and her existence to slowly manifest.
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