A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner
“A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner
The following entry presents criticism of Faulkner's short story “A Rose for Emily”(1931). See also "The Bear" Criticism.
“A Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner's most anthologized stories. Drawing on the tradition of Gothic literature in America, particularly Southern Gothic, the story uses grotesque imagery and first-person-plural narration to explore a culture unable to cope with its own death and decay.
Plot and Major Characters
“A Rose for Emily” begins with the announcement of the death of Miss Emily Grierson, an alienated spinster living in the South in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The narrator, who speaks in the “we” voice and appears to represent the people of the town, recounts the story of Emily's life as a lonely and impoverished woman left penniless by her father, who drove away suitors from his overprotected daughter. Emily was left when her father died with a large, dilapidated house, into which the townspeople have never been invited, and there is an almost lurid interest among them when they are finally able to enter the house upon Emily's death. At that point they discover the truth about the extent of Emily's problems: she has kept the body of her lover, a Northerner named Homer Barron, locked in a bedroom since she killed him years before, and she has continued to sleep with him.
A variety of themes have been attributed to “A Rose for Emily.” Many critics have focused on Emily's attempts to stop time by confusing past and present and refusing to accept change; similarly, the muddled chronology of events in the story has been a subject of great debate. Both issues have been interpreted as symbolic of the American South's inability to move forward along with the industrialized North after the Civil War. Another analysis finds Emily to be a tragic figure because of her staunch individualism and the probing and judgmental speculations of the townspeople. Still other critics trace the story's significance to Gothic and horror literature going back to Edgar Allan Poe.
Although “A Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner's best-known stories, it has not generally been considered his greatest achievement in short fiction. In fact, some critics initially accused Faulkner of writing a shallow and exploitative horror story. More recently, however, some critics have questioned the traditionally accepted interpretations of the story, focusing in particular on the role of the unnamed narrator in the story and on the metaphoric rape of Emily through the posthumous invasion of her house.
These Thirteen 1930
Doctor Martino, and Other Stories 1934
The Unvanquished 1938
The Wild Palms 1939
Go Down, Moses, and Other Stories 1942
Knight's Gambit 1949
Collected Stories of William Faulkner 1950
Big Woods 1955
New Orleans Sketches 1958
Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner 1979
The Marble Faun (poetry) 1924
Soldiers' Pay (novel) 1926
Mosquitoes (novel) 1927
Sartoris [Flags in the Dust] (novel) 1929
The Sound and the Fury (novel) 1929
As I Lay Dying (novel) 1930
Sanctuary (novel) 1931
Light in August (novel) 1932
A Green Bough (poetry) 1933
Pylon (novel) 1935
Absalom, Absalom! (novel) 1936
The Hamlet (novel) 1940
Intruder in the Dust (novel) 1948
Requiem for a Nun (drama) 1951
A Fable (novel) 1954
The Town (novel) 1957
The Mansion (novel) 1959...
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SOURCE: “Atmosphere and Theme in Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in William Faulkner: Four Decades of Criticism, edited by Linda Welshimer Wagner, Michigan State University Press, 1973, pp. 192–98.
[In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in Perspective in 1949, West interprets “A Rose for Emily” as an allegory in which Emily represents the Old South and Homer Barron represents the new order influenced by the North.]
The first clues to meaning in a short story usually arise from a detection of the principal contrasts which an author sets up. The most common, perhaps, are contrasts of character, but when characters are contrasted there is usually also a resultant contrast in terms of action. Since action reflects a moral or ethical state, contrasting action points to a contrast in ideological perspectives and hence toward the theme.
The principal contrast in William Faulkner's short story “A Rose for Emily” is between past time and present time: the past as represented in Emily herself, in Colonel Sartoris, in the old Negro servant, and in the Board of Aldermen who accepted the Colonel's attitude toward Emily and rescinded her taxes; the present is depicted through the unnamed narrator and is represented in the new Board of Aldermen, in Homer Barron (the representative of Yankee attitudes toward the Griersons and through them toward the...
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SOURCE: “Usher, Poquelin, and Miss Emily: The Progress of Southern Gothic,” in The Georgia Review, Vol. 14, Winter, 1960, pp. 433–43.
[In the following essay, Stone considers “A Rose for Emily” in the tradition of Southern Gothic fiction.]
Some years ago Professors Brooks and Warren offered the suggestion in Understanding Fiction that we consider William Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily” as akin to Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher” on the grounds that in both “we have a decaying mansion in which the protagonist, shut away from the world, grows into something monstrous. …” But to do so, as these critics more or less admit, is to point up as many differences as similarities. Granted that each is “a story of horror”: the gloomy corridors of Gothicism are too numerous for such a suggestion to prove more than initially instructive. Without losing sight of the possibilities it may offer, let us extend it and consider Faulkner's spirit-chilling little classic along the additional lines proposed more recently by Professor Randall Stewart—those of Faulkner's relationship to earlier characteristically Southern writers. In particular, let us compare “A Rose for Emily” with George Washington Cable's “Jean-ah Poquelin,” to which it is more closely akin, not only in horror, but in that far more important quality defined by Professor Stewart as “a common view of the human...
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SOURCE: “The Narrator in ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 1, No. 3, September, 1971, pp. 159–78.
[In the following essay, Sullivan argues that the narrator of “A Rose for Emily” is more important to the meaning of the story than most critics believe.]
Faulkner's well-read “A Rose for Emily” has been variously interpreted as a mere horror story about necrophilia and madness, as a story about the Old South contending with the New Order of the Post-Civil War era, as a tragic tale of a woman's noble but doomed effort to resist the forces of time, change, and death, and as a tale of the catastrophe that can result when someone allows illusion to become confused with reality.
Published criticism of this story shares two assumptions: that Miss Emily is its only important character and that she is somehow objectively presented; that is, that she can be analyzed as though she had an existence apart from the consciousness through whom Faulkner chose to reveal her. For “A Rose for Emily” is first-person narration, hence subject to the questions one usually puts in understanding such a story. For instance, who is the narrator and what is his relationship to the main action? Why did the author choose this particular narrator for this particular story?
All interpretations of “A Rose for Emily”...
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SOURCE: “The Telltale Hair: A Critical Study of William Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter, 1972, pp. 301–18.
[In the following essay, Heller provides a critical overview of “A Rose for Emily.”]
The Soul selects her own Society— Then—shuts the Door— To her divine Majority— Present no more— Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing At her low Gate— Unmoved—an Emperor be kneeling Upon her Mat— I've known her—from an ample nation— Choose One— Then—close the valves of her attention— Like Stone—
During the more than four decades since the first publication of William Faulkner's story “A Rose for Emily,” two general questions seem to have attracted significant critical attention. The more recently flourishing discussion of the narration has centered on the narrative voice, whether it is distinct from or coincident with the voice or voices of the town. Those readers who have made strong arguments for a distinct persona have differed widely in characterizing it. Nicklaus Happel, for example, believes that the narrator is somewhat aloof from the town and that, in the course of his narrative, he shows sympathy for Emily to atone for past neglect.1 Ruth Sullivan, in a long article devoted exclusively to the narration, asserts that psychoanalysis of the narrator...
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SOURCE: “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4, Winter, 1984, pp. 685–97.
[In the following essay, Allen contends that rather than simply horrifying the reader, the grotesque elements in “A Rose for Emily” are designed to fascinate and delight.]
Enigmatic and inescapable, Emily Grierson dominates William Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily,” and her protean, mysterious nature is nowhere more apparent than in her physical appearance. If her psychology is difficult to fathom, her body is equally rich in ambiguity. Her first direct appearance in the narrative, a flashback to her meeting with the aldermen who have come to discuss her taxes, dramatically conveys her corporeal oddity:
They rose when she entered—a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.1...
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SOURCE: “‘A Rose for Emily’: Against Interpretation,” in The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 15, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 42–51.
[In the following essay, Skinner contends that much critical analysis of “A Rose for Emily” is “ingenious, but misguided.”]
“A Rose for Emily,” the story of a woman who has killed her lover and has lain for years beside his decaying corpse, is essentially trivial in its horror because it has no implications, because it is pure event without implication: …1
At a distance of more than fifty years, Lionel Trilling's comments seem almost dismissive, but literary critics have retaliated with an almost obsessive interest. “A Rose for Emily” has become one of Faulkner's most analyzed stories and with some hundred articles devoted to it, there is little encouragement for further interpretation: there may even be good reason for not interpreting the story any more—at least in traditional terms of character and theme—and for turning instead to more formal considerations. After explaining my misgivings about much earlier criticism, I propose to consider “A Rose for Emily” in terms of the classic formalist distinction between fabula and suzhet. I shall examine the text both in terms of the narrator's own associative logic and with reference to Genette's celebrated...
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SOURCE: “Tryst Beyond Time: Faulkner's Emily and Keats,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 203–13.
[In the following essay, Birk finds similarities between “A Rose for Emily” and John Keats's “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”]
Over the last two decades, critics have shown Keats's influence on the work of William Faulkner. In 1968 Cleanth Brooks pointed out that Faulkner commenced his career in letters by considering himself a poet and later even went so far as to label himself a “failed poet.” According to Brooks, Faulkner's poetry bears the influence of Keats, Verlaine, and T. S. Eliot (5–6). In 1972 J. F. Kobler showed similarities between Faulkner's Lena Grove and Keats's Grecian urn, especially in terms of the shared attribute of endurance (339). The following year William B. Stone argued a connection between “The Bear” and the famous ode, with the poem functioning as a “kind of ‘objective correlative’” to Ike's idealistic thinking and, in a later version of the story, as a token of such thinking corrupted (93). In 1974 Joan S. Korenman approached the topic of the influence of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” more broadly, maintaining that Faulkner himself claimed Keats as his favorite poet, that “Grecian Urn” held the greatest allure for him, and that at least two of Faulkner's novels cite passages from the ode directly while others bear suggestions...
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SOURCE: “Of Time and Its Mathematical Progression: Problems of Chronology in Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 29, 1992, pp. 195–204.
[In the following essay, Moore proposes a chronology of events in “A Rose for Emily.”]
Over the past 30 years, no fewer than eight different chronologies have been proposed to account for the events occurring in William Faulkner's celebrated short story “A Rose for Emily.”1 These chronologies cover a span of 14 years (Miss Emily was born between 1850 and 1864, and died between 1924 and 1938), and they make use of many different kinds of evidence: not only internal temporal references and cross-references in the story, but also historical, biographical, canonical, and even forensic evidence. Given the amount of interest generated by this question and the range of evidence employed in the various arguments, it is remarkable that no one seems ever to have regarded the original manuscript as a possible source of chronological information; in fact, evidence from the manuscript makes it possible to solve some of the problems of Miss Emily's chronology by fixing the date of her father's death.
While critics have recognized the importance of time to a proper understanding of the story—in the words of Ray B. West, Jr., “The subject of the story is man's relation to Time” (Inge 36)—they...
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SOURCE: “Irony and Isolation: Narrative Distance in Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in The Faulkner Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 3–12.
[In the following essay, Rodman argues that, rather than representing the community, the narrator of “A Rose for Emily” is just as isolated and alienated as Emily.]
The critical consensus remains that the narrator of “A Rose for Emily” speaks for his community.1 The narrator has been seen as “community representative” (Allen 187); “[t]he narrating character in ‘A Rose for Emily’ plays no active role, but his opinions of Emily Grierson directly reflect his community's attitude” (Ruppersburg 15). For another critic, “the first person narrator … seems to represent the generalized voice of Jefferson” (Millgate, Achievement 272). Cleanth Brooks wrote:
In “A Rose for Emily” … there is a narrator who … clearly speaks for the community. For example, he never says “I thought,” or “I knew,” or “I believed,” but speaks rather of “our whole town”; he says that “we were not pleased” at certain happenings. … This anonymous speaker never insists on his individual judgments. (The community is a true community and he is clearly its voice.)
But the narrator may be seen to be as isolated as...
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SOURCE: “Gender and Authorial Limitation in Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily,’” in Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, 1994, pp. 391–402.
[In the following essay, Curry uses Faulkner's personal thoughts on patriarchal society and feminism to analyze “A Rose for Emily.”]
Faulkner's extensive authorial power in “A Rose for Emily” looms evident in the design of a large Southern gothic house, in the outline of three complex generations of a Southern community, and in the development of a plot that dutifully weaves and unweaves a mystery through a limited omniscient point of view. However, Faulkner also reveals and revels in an authorial lack of knowledge when presented with writing a “lady” into a patriarchal Southern text. Although sole author of “A Rose for Emily,” this writer knows little about what went on in his lady's, Miss Emily Grierson's, household. Knowledge of Emily proves unavailable to him (and consequently to the reader) for about thirty years before we meet her—before her father dies and lets her out of the house—and also for the last twenty-seven years of her life. He writes, “her front door remained closed,”1 and with these words, he both instigates and reveals an extended period of limited knowledge.
William Faulkner opens “A Rose for Emily” with a lengthy fifty-six-word single sentence that both encapsulates a community's...
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SOURCE: “From Spinster to Eunuch: William Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily’ and Mario Vargas ‘Llosa's Los cachorros,’” in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1997, pp. 328–47.
[In the following essay, O'Bryan-Knight finds similarities between Emily and Cuéllar in Mario Vargas Llosa's Los cachorros.]
At first glance the protagonists of William Faulkner's short story “A Rose for Emily” and Mario Vargas Llosa's novella Los cachorros appear to be exact opposites. The former is a mature woman from the semi-rural town of Jefferson, Mississippi, while the latter is a young man from a semi-urban environment, the Miraflores district of Lima. A quick comparison of the these characters' life stories yields no obvious points of intersection. Emily Grierson lives her youth under the watchful eye of her over-protective father. Following his death, she withdraws from the world and spends her remaining years shut away in the big house she inherited. Cuéllar, a talented and popular boy, seems destined for a golden future until the day he is cornered by his school's guard dog. Castrated in the attack, he never regains his early promise. Other than mutual misfortune, is there some stronger evidence of overlap between the texts that would warrant a comparative study? As this essay will demonstrate, there is indeed. Under closer observation, the Southern spinster and the Latin American...
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Bourdieu, Pierre. “A Reflecting Story.” In Rediscovering History: Culture, Politics, and the Psyche, pp. 370–77. Edited by Michael S. Roth. Stanford University Press, 1994.
Discusses temporality in “A Rose for Emily.”
Brooks, Cleanth and Robert Penn Warren. “A Rose for Emily.” In Understanding Fiction, pp. 350–54. Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1959.
Interprets “A Rose for Emily” as a tragic struggle between an individual and the society that attempts to restrict her.
Hagopian, John V., W. Gordon Cunliffe, and Martin Dolch. “A Rose for Emily.” In A Rose for Emily, pp. 76–83. Edited by M. Thomas Inge. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1970.
Provides an overview of critical analysis about “A Rose for Emily.”
Additional coverage of Faulkner's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 7; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1929–1941; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 81–84; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 33; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, 18, 28, 52, 68; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 9, 11, 44, 102; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary...
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