Study Guide

A Rose for Emily

by William Faulkner

A Rose for Emily Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The extraordinary degree to which the young Faulkner managed to compress into this, his first published story, many of the elements that came to be characteristic of his fiction is the effect of his unusual use of the first-person point of view and his control of the motifs that flow from it.

By confining himself to the pronoun “we,” the narrator gives the reader the impression that the whole town is bearing witness to the behavior of a heroine, about whom they have ambivalent attitudes, ambiguously expressed. The ambiguity derives in part from the community’s lack of access to facts, stimulating the narrator to draw on his own and the communal imagination to fill out the picture, creating a collage of images. The narration gives the impression of coming out of a communal consciousness, creating the effect of a peculiar omniscience. An entire novel could be developed from the material compressed into this short story.

Is the narrator telling the story in the southern oral tradition or is he or she writing it? To ask basic questions about this unusual collective mode of narration—who, what, where, when, and why—is to stir up many possibilities. The oral mode seems most appropriate, but the style, consisting of such phrases as “diffident deprecation,” suggests the written mode.

A pattern of motifs that interact, contrasting with or paralleling one another, sometimes symbolically, sometimes ironically, flows naturally from the reservoir of communal elements in the narrator’s saturated consciousness as he tells the story: the funeral, the cemetery, the garages, cars, cotton gins, taxes, the law, the market basket and other elements of black existence, the house, its front and back doors, its cellar and upper rooms, the window where Emily sits, the idol image that becomes a fallen monument, images that evoke the Civil War, images of gold, of decay, the color yellow, dust, shadows, corpses and bodies like corpses, the smells, the breaking down of doors, the poison, and the images of hair.

To lend greater impact to the surprise ending and to achieve greater artistic unity and intensity of effect, Faulkner uses other devices: foreshadowing, reversal, and repetition. Most of the motifs, spaced effectively throughout, are repeated at least three times, enabling the reader to respond at any given point to all the elements simultaneously.

Imitators of the surprise-ending device, made famous in modern times by O. Henry, have given that device a bad name by using it mechanically to provoke a superficial thrill. In raising the surprise-ending device to the level of complex art, Faulkner achieves a double impact: “The man himself lay on the bed” is shock enough, justified by what has gone before, but “the long strand of iron-gray hair,” the charged image that ends the story, shocks the reader into a sudden, intuitive reexperiencing and reappraisal of the stream of images, bringing order and meaning to the pattern of motifs.

A Rose for Emily (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Miss Emily met Homer Baron, a foreman with a construction company, when her hometown was first getting paved streets. Her father had already died but, not before driving away her eligible suitors. As rumors circulate about her possible marriage to a Yankee, Homer leaves town abruptly. During his absence, Miss Emily buys rat poison.

When Homer returns, the townspeople see him enter Miss Emily’s house but not leave. Only when she dies do the townspeople discover his corpse on a bed in her house and, next to it, a strand of Miss Emily’s hair.

This Gothic plot makes serious points about woman’s place in society. Throughout the story, the reader is aware that these events are taking place during a time of transition: The town is finally getting sidewalks and mailboxes. More important, values are changing. The older magistrates, for example, looked on Miss Emily paternally and refused to collect taxes from her; the newer ones try, unsuccessfully, to do so.

Caught in these changing times, Miss Emily is trapped in her role as genteel spinster. Without a husband, her life will have no meaning. She tries to give lessons in painting china but cannot find pupils for this out-of-date hobby and finally discontinues them. If Homer is thinking of abandoning her, as his departure implies, one can understand her desire to clutch at any sort of union, even a marriage in death.

The theme is developed through an exceptionally well-crafted story. Told from a third-person plural point of view, it reveals the reactions of the town to Miss Emily. As this “we” narrator shifts allegiance--now criticizing Miss Emily, now sympathizing with her--the reader sees the trap in which she is caught, and the extensive but unobtrusive foreshadowing prepares the reader for the story’s final revelation without detracting from its force.

A Rose for Emily Historical Context

The South after the Civil War
The Reconstruction after the Civil War had a profound and humbling effect on Southern...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

A Rose for Emily Quizzes

Questions and Answers Section I

Study Questions
1. What hints are given in Section I that “A Rose for Emily” takes place in the South?

2. What is the name of Miss Emily’s manservant?

3. Why does the Board of Aldermen send a delegation to Miss Emily’s house?

4. Whose portrait sits on an easel by Miss Emily’s fireplace, and what material was used to make it?

5. What “color” is Miss Emily’s house?

Answers
1. Faulkner mentions a cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers who were killed during the Battle of Jefferson are buried; the former mayor of Jefferson, Colonel Sartoris, was the father of an edict prohibiting Negro women from appearing in...

(The entire section is 187 words.)

Questions and Answers Section II

Study Questions
1. Why doesn’t Judge Stevens want to confront Miss Emily about “the smell”?

2. What did Miss Emily inherit from her father?

3. What were the minister and the doctor trying to convince Miss Emily of doing after her father’s death?

4. How many years pass between “the smell” in Section II and the deputation in Section I that visits Miss Emily about her taxes?

5. What do town members finally do about “the smell”?

Answers
1. Judge Stevens believes that he can not “accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad.…”

2. Miss Emily’s father willed her the house but apparently left her with...

(The entire section is 144 words.)

Questions and Answers Section III

Study Questions
1. What does the term “noblesse oblige” mean?

2. What events cause some of the townspeople to say “Poor Emily”?

3. Why is Homer Barron in town?

4. What does Miss Emily purchase from the druggist?

5. What does Miss Emily tell the druggist the poison is to be used for?

Answer
1. “Noblesse oblige” is a French term that means “nobility is an obligation.” In the English usage, it refers to the “honorable” behavior that persons of high birth or rank are expected to display.

2. Miss Emily appears in public with, and expresses an interest in, Homer Barron, a Yankee day laborer.

...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Questions and Answers Section IV

Study Questions
1. Why did the Baptist minister call on Miss Emily?

2. What did Miss Emily buy from the town jeweler?

3. About how many years pass between the time of Homer Barron’s disappearance and Miss Emily’s death?

4. What change took place in Miss Emily’s relationship with the town for a period of several years when Miss Emily was in her forties?

5. Were the new generation of town leaders able to collect taxes from Miss Emily?

Answers
1. The minister was forced by some of the ladies in town to talk with Miss Emily about her being a bad example for the town.

2. Miss Emily purchased a man’s silver toilet...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Questions and Answers: Section V

Study Questions
1. What happens to Tobe after Miss Emily’s death?

2. What are some of the older men wearing at Miss Emily’s funeral?

3. Which room do the townspeople open once Miss Emily is “decently in the ground…”?

4. What kinds of objects are found in the room once it is opened?

5. What is found on the pillow next to the skeleton?

Answers
1. Tobe leaves Miss Emily’s house and is never seen again.

2. Some of the old men are wearing brushed Confederate uniforms.

3. The townspeople open a room above the stairs that has not been opened for forty years.

4. Among other things, there...

(The entire section is 139 words.)