William Faulkner

A Rose for Emily

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A Rose for Emily Summary

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A Rose for Emily is a short story by celebrated American author William Faulkner. First published in 1930, it was Faulkner’s first short story in a national magazine. It tells the story of one small Mississippi town’s local recluse and is written in Faulkner’s signature non-linear style.

The story begins with the funeral of town recluse and eccentric, Emily Grierson. The town views her funeral as an obligation and a bit of a chore. From there, the story is told in a non-linear fashion based on the narrator’s memories of Emily’s increasingly unpredictable behavior.

Emily’s family was once Southern aristocracy, and after the Civil War, they fell on hard times. Although the war is over, Emily and her father continued to live as they did before, with her father refusing to allow her to marry. When he dies and leaves her alone at age 30, she is shocked and devastated. When she refuses to bury him, the townspeople write it off as an eccentric grieving process.

Emily recovers eventually, and she becomes friendly with a man named Homer Barron, a Northerner who came to town shortly after her father’s death. The townspeople are pleased but surprised. However, Homer claims that he isn’t the marrying kind and intends to stay a bachelor forever. When Emily is seen buying arsenic from the local store, the townspeople are convinced that Homer’s declaration has driven her to suicide.

The town arranges for Emily’s distant cousins to come into town to watch over her, and Homer leaves. After a brief return to town three days later, he disappears and is never seen again. Despite all these events, Emily continues with her haughty, eccentric ways as if nothing has happened.

The town is soon plagued by a ghastly smell coming from Emily’s house, but as always, they deal with the problem in a roundabout way. Late at night, men sprinkle lime around her house, and the smell soon dissipates. The mayor decides to waive Emily’s taxes under the pretense of paying back her father after his death, and Emily is left alone in her house.

Years later, with a new generation of leaders in office, Emily insists on the same arrangement. At this point, the town has begun to think of her as a “hereditary obligation” and they politely tolerate her erratic behavior.

Emily funeral at the end of the novel is a large affair. Many come only to gawk at the legendary local recluse. After the funeral, speculation about the state of her house is high, and a few townspeople decide to explore what’s left. They find her bedroom locked, and they kick down the door to find inside every gift Emily ever bought for Homer. On the bed is the badly decomposed body of Homer Barron with an indentation in the pillow beside him and a single gray hair.

Faulkner’s nonlinear style in A Rose for Emily allows him to examine both the events as they happened, but also the subjective nature of memories. The events have a relationship to one another, and this connection becomes clearer as the narrator is given the freedom to recall the events as they come to mind.

Tradition is a major theme within this story. Emily is born into a traditional Southern way of life that crumbles after the Civil War. Without the structure of a rigid class system, Emily’s father begins controlling the only thing he can—his daughter.She, in turn, is unable to shirk that control even after his death, a fact she demonstrates when she refuses to give up his corpse for burial. This control is reflected in her relationship with—and murder of—Homer Barron, a Northerner who doesn’t fit into the rigid traditions of her small town and life.

Emily’s isolation is another persistent theme. The town watches her but also leaves her alone. She is extremely isolated and yet, every action is also put under a microscope by her neighbors. Her behavior under this isolation contributes further to her isolation, and simultaneously contributes to the curiosity that prevents the town from setting her free.

To some extent, her character mirrors what Faulkner himself felt about the Old South. Emily refuses to relinquish her control and her traditions, and when Homer arrives into town but threatens to leave, it is a sign of disrespect toward everything Emily has known. Likewise, the old traditions of the South were dying out and forcing its people to reconcile changing times with what they had always known.

The story is a haunting example of what happens when the mind refuses to accept change, and what happens when an entire community both watches and ostracizes one of its members. Emily is an enduring figure and one that the reader sympathizes with despite her murder of Homer. Abandoned by those close to her, she found comfort only when by their corpses.