A Rose for Emily
Title: “A Rose for Emily”
Author: William Faulkner
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Emily Grierson (Miss Emily) – Part of a once proud, aristocratic Southern family, she eventually becomes the town eccentric, a figure to be pitied for the two main tragedies that affected her life: the death of her father, which left her with nothing but a big house that became her prison, and the death of her beau, Homer Barron.
Narrator – An unnamed figure, but the impression is given that it is a male. He tells the story of Emily Grierson through a series of flashbacks and foreshadowings, culminating with the grisly ending in which the badly decomposed body of Homer Barron is found in a bridal suite on the top floor of the Grierson home.
Homer Barron – A Yankee construction foreman and Emily Grierson’s first serious suitor. Their relationship is considered taboo due to his Northern background and her Southern background. Despite town gossip, they maintain their relationship until the arrival of Emily’s cousins from Alabama. While they visit, Homer leaves town, returning three days after they have gone back to Alabama. He is last seen entering the Grierson house, and is not seen again until his badly decomposed body is found in the top floor bedroom of the Grierson home.
Mr. Grierson – Emily’s father. He is responsible for Emily becoming a spinster, for he felt that “None of the young men were quite good enough…”for his daughter. When he dies, Emily is unwilling to accept it, holding onto the body for three days before being convinced to allow it to be removed from the home.
Emily’s Cousins – Relatives from Alabama, they arrive in Jefferson, Mississippi after receiving a letter from the wife of the minister of Jefferson concerning Emily’s relationship with Homer Barron. They come to town with the goal of discouraging the continuation of the relationship, but are unsuccessful and return home after a week-long stay.
Old Lady Wyatt – The great-aunt of Emily Grierson, she is referred to by the narrator as being crazy. It is a dispute over her Alabama estate that leads to a rift between Mr. Grierson and his Alabama relations.
Tobe – The black manservant in the Grierson home. For a majority of the story, he is the only companion of Emily, and is often the only symbol of life within the gloomy home. He is blamed by the townspeople for the bad smell in the Grierson home. He is also the only person with Emily when she dies, and after letting the townspeople into the home following her funeral, he disappears and is never seen again.
Colonel Sartoris – The mayor of Jefferson when Mr. Grierson dies. The typical chivalrous, honorable Southern gentleman, he remits the taxes owed by Grierson “into perpetuity” to prevent Emily from having to depend on charity.
Judge Stevens – The mayor of Jefferson during the time when the townspeople are complaining of the bad smell coming from the Grierson home. Also a typical chivalrous, honorable Southern gentleman, he refuses to confront Emily about the smell coming from her house. Instead, he allows a group of men to go onto the property late at night and sprinkle lime around the house to kill the smell.
Minister – A Baptist clergyman, he is pressured by the townspeople to talk to Emily regarding her relationship with Homer Barron. He meets with her only one time, but never reveals what was discussed, only that he would never again speak to her about Homer.
Minister’s Wife – She is responsible for sending a letter to Emily’s cousins concerning the relationship between Emily and Homer.
Druggist – Responsible for selling Emily a batch of arsenic, which she purchased during the time her cousins were visiting. Because Emily never gave him a reason for why she needed the arsenic, he simply listed the reason as being “for rats.”
Setting: The story is set in the fictional city of Jefferson, in the county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi. They are based on the real city of Oxford, in Lafayette County, Mississippi.
Narration: First-person narration by an unnamed narrator who is a resident of Jefferson.
Summary: “A Rose For Emily” tells the story of Emily Grierson, eccentric spinster of Jefferson, Mississippi. Told through the voice of an unnamed narrator, it presents the details of Emily’s odd life, as well as the relationships she has with various people: her father, who controlled her; her lover, Homer Barron, who winds up being found dead and badly decomposed at the end of the story; and the townspeople of Jefferson, who gossip about her.
Tone/Voice: The story is told in a whimsical, and at times, sympathetic tone.
Flashback – An example can be found in the first section of the story, when the narrator explains the role Emily had in Jefferson: “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor … remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity.”
Foreshadowing – An example can be found in the second section of the story, regarding the death of Emily’s father and how it serves as a clue to the death of Homer Barron: “The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief…She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.” When she has Homer’s corpse, she does not let it go until the day she dies.
Irony: The title of the story serves as irony. Emily Grierson has not had a rosy life, but rather a tragic one, filled with sadness, loneliness, and death.
Theme: Decay and death are the themes of the story. This is evidenced through the decayed home and neighborhood Emily Grierson lives in, as well as the deaths of her father and lover.
House – It serves as a representation of the Reconstruction South’s prosperity, and then its eventual decline. It also serves as a symbol of isolation, as it became a prison for Emily.
Emily Grierson – She is a symbol of the passing of the Old South, for she becomes decrepit and decayed like her house does.
Pocket Watch and Gray Hair – They represent the passing of time, with regard to Emily. They reveal how life has passed her by, taking along with it any opportunity for happiness that she may have had.
Critique: “A Rose For Emily” is somewhat morbid to read. However, there are moments of sympathy as well. The reader can feel for Emily as she deals with a controlling father and nosy, gossipy neighbors. One can understand why she grabs her opportunity of happiness where she can find it: with the Yankee construction foreman Homer Barron. Unfortunately, in order to never be alone again, she kills him and keeps his dead body in her home. It is not until her own death that Emily actually achieves the freedom she craved. Thus, the story is not just about an eccentric woman who murders her lover, but rather about the need we all have to live happy, independent lives.