Why is this work called "A Rose for Emily"?

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carol-davis's profile pic

carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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William Faulkner's story "A Rose for Emily" holds close to the traditions of the Old South.  In that time, much like  the Arthurian legends, women were to be guarded, cherished, and treasured. Miss Emily Grierson, the story's main character, secluded herself from the rest of society, symbolic of a time that was passing away.  Her father had protected her so much that he prevented her from living a normal life: no beaus or even friends. When he died,  Colonel Satoris, the town's mayor, lied to keep Emily from having to pay taxes for her property.  Early in the story, the reader is told:

Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; sort of hereditary obligation upon the town..."

But the new south did not find the traditions necessary.  The town would require Miss Emily to pay her taxes and would place a street number on her house. 

The story begins with the funeral of Miss Emily.  Her death rings in the passing of the genteel way of life, replaced by the new generation's crass way of doing things.  Both Miss Emily and her house deteriorated through time and neglect, a transitory passing from the ethereal beauty  of the past to the ugliness of the present.

Throughout the story, the main character is endowed with the respectful title of a spinster: Miss.  However, with the gruesome discovery in the upstairs bridal chamber and a gray hair on the pillow, the author fails to use the designation in the title of the story.  In death she now just Emily, a lonely woman rejected by the town and the man she loved.

A rose, never actually seen on the story, was given as a token of friendship, beauty, or love in Faulkner's south.  In the title, the rose represents the ambivalence of Emily herself. Miss Emily deserved a rose.  Yet, she garnered not one.  The town had not pulled her in, come to her rescue, nor treasured her as a remnant of the past.  Instead it had shunned her, gossiped about her, and allowed her to wither away like the dying petals of a rose.

Miss Emily and her secret life slip into the reader's memory: the rose-colored room with the dust and cobwebs; the bridal dress waiting to be worn; and Homer tucked away like a rose pressed between the pages of a book, seldom used, but at times opened and held.

Faulkner himself explained the reason for his choice of the title:

It [The title] was an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who has had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it and I pitied her and this was a salute...to a woman you would hand a rose.

In the end,  Emily received her rose.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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William Faulkner's sympathetic explanation of his title points to the paradoxical remark that he once made, "I love the South; I hate the South."  So, while he has symbolized the decadence of the Old South, Faulkner has also paid tribute to it.

At the funeral, the men's having dressed symbolically in their Confederate uniforms leads to this underlying tribute to the South.  While they hollowly imagine that they have courted Miss Emily and danced with her, they do also praise her as part of the legendary South that refuses to die.  For, although Emily is humiliated by Homer's leaving her and his lower class standing, like the redoubtable South of old, Emily rises again when he returns and defeats the Northerner by killing him.  Thus, Faulkner's rose is both a symbol of sympathy for Emily, and an acknowledgement of her passion and Southern pride, proving the narrators' observance that "with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her"; namely, the pride, honor, and "gumption" of the Old South.


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