What's the significance of the title "A Rose for Emily"?

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docholl1's profile pic

Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In 1959, during an interview, Faulkner implied that Miss Emily deserved a rose--a symbol of beauty--in part to make up for the wretched life imposed upon her by circumstances.  Faulkner essentially felt sympathy for Emily because she simply wanted to have a normal southern young woman's life-- a husband, children, a home--but these dreams were dashed by an over-bearing father who chased all her suitors away and essentially doomed Emily to a life without all those aspects of life everyone has a right to expect.

Even though Faulkner acknowledged that part of Emily's tragic life was the result of Emily's having broken the laws of man and God, Faulkner was most critical of Emily's father, who selfishly wanted her to stay unmarried in order to take care of him and put his welfare above that of his child's.

In the final analysis, though, Faulkner felt the the rose expressed the happy normalcy that Emily was denied in her life.

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boatagainstcurrent | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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A rose is a life form, and there are few life forms in and around the home of Emily Grierson. Emily's home is an eyesore that is dilapidated and decaying, while the rest of the town is rebuilding and changing appropriately with the times. While a rose is symbolic of life, Emily's home "smelled of dust and disuse-- a close, dank smell." And Emily herself is described as "a small, fat woman in black." The narrator also describes her as a "... skeleton ... [who] looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue." Emily appears dead herself, long before she physically succumbs in the novel. Perhaps that is because she hides the death of her father and her lover, H.B., in her home, for as long as she can. The contrast between the title and Emily's dark surroundings serves to emphasize just how isolated and misunderstood Emily was.

Not only is a rose a form of life, but the title suggests that this is something being offered to Emily. One might offer a rose as a romantic gesture on a date. Emily, in her life, did not go on dates, for her father forbade it. He turned away countless suitors at the family door. Even after her father's death, when Emily finally has the freedom to choose a man for herself, she cannot do so; the man she wants, Homer Barron, does not want her.

The title could suggest an offering made by the town for Emily at her funeral. The town acts as the collective first person narrator of the story, and the town's opinion of Emily ranges from curiosity to disapproval to pity. Little is known of Emily, and when the town attends Emily's funeral, the men go "through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument," while the women go "mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house." Emily was elusive and isolated in life. She was not the kind of woman who would have received a gift of roses. Only in her death does the town get close enough to discover the secrets of Emily. Only in her death does Emily receive the gesture of a rose, but this gesture is impersonal and compulsory-- something one might do to mark a "fallen monument."

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The rose in the title of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" can be seen as a means of suggesting that the story is intended to be a sort of love story.

As a symbol the rose is commonly associated with love, romance and courtship. Oddly enough, Emily's story is one of romance and romantic vision. Although the love affair is kept a secret in Emily's story, her desire to love and to be loved is powerful enough for her to keep the corpse of her murdered lover in a bed upstairs in her house. 

This is, obviously, a strange manifestation of the romantic impulse but it is nonetheless related to the romantic impulse and so Emily's story can be seen as one of love's necessity (even in or despite insanity and/or difficult circumstances). Seen in this light, the rose of the story's title refers to the romantic nature of the tale and, more specifically, suggests that this is the history of one woman's sole, great love affair.

"As a lady might press a rose between the pages of a history of the South, she keeps her own personal rose, her lover, preserved in the bridal chamber where a rose color pervades everything" (eNotes).

Another way to understand the significance of the rose is to consider the physical nature of roses in addition to their romantic connotations. Roses possess a great beauty but also have thorns. Emily's love life was not one of beauty alone (if there was much beauty at all) and as an object of love Emily was not without an aspect of danger. 

She kills her lover (Homer) perhaps as a rose might prick an admirer. 


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