Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised 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...
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A Rose for Emily (Magill Book Reviews)
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...
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The South after the Civil War
The Reconstruction after the Civil War had a profound and humbling effect on Southern society. The South’s outdated plantation economy, based so long upon slave labor, was devastated by emancipation. Northern opportunists, known as ‘‘carpet-baggers,’’ came in droves to take advantage of the economic chaos. Some Southern aristocrats found themselves working the land alongside tenant farmers and former slaves. Faulkner came from a family that once owned a plantation. The history of his family and of the South in general inspired Faulkner’s imagination.
The short stories and novels Faulkner wrote about Yoknapatawpha County combine to create an epic, mythical history of this era. David Minter, in his biography William Faulkner: His Life and Work, notes that as a teenager, Faulkner was known for being observational to the point of oddness: ‘‘Sometimes he joined the old men of Oxford on the town square … there he sat or stood motionless, quiet, as though held fast by some inner scene or some inner sense of himself.’’ It was in this manner that Faulkner soaked up the legends of his region. He heard Civil War stories from the old veterans, hunting stories from his father, stories of his great-grandfather’s heroic exploits from his grandfather, and fables about the animals in the forest told by Mammy Caroline Barr, an ex-slave who watched over him when he was a small boy. The...
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Questions and Answers Section I
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?
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 street without an apron; and cotton gins have sprung up around Miss Emily’s house.
2. The name of Miss Emily’s manservant, a “combined gardener and cook,” is Tobe.
3. Miss Emily had not been paying taxes for many years, and the new town leaders wanted to rectify the situation.
4. The portrait of Miss Emily's father, made from crayons, is on the easel.
5. Miss Emily’s house is described as “a big squarish frame house that had once been white.…”
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Questions and Answers Section II
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”?
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 no money.
3. The men were trying to convince Miss Emily of disposing of her father’s body properly.
4. Thirty years pass between the two events.
5. A group of men sprinkle lime around Miss Emily’s house and in her cellar.
(The entire section is 144 words.)
Questions and Answers Section III
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?
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.
3. Homer Barron is on a crew paving the sidewalks.
4. Miss Emily buys arsenic from the druggist.
5. Miss Emily refuses to tell the druggist why she wants the poison.
(The entire section is 127 words.)
Questions and Answers Section IV
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?
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 set with the initials “H. B.” engraved on each piece.
3. Miss Emily was in her thirties when she met Homer Barron, and she was seventy-four when she died.
4. Miss Emily opened up her house for china-painting lessons for the town’s children.
5. No, the town was never able to collect taxes from Miss Emily. Each year the request for the taxes was returned by the post office unopened.
(The entire section is 179 words.)
Questions and Answers: Section V
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?
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 is an array of crystal, a man’s silver toiletry set, a collar with a tie, and a man’s suit.
5. On the pillow next to the skeleton there is a long strand of iron-gray hair.
(The entire section is 139 words.)
Flashback and Foreshadowing
Flashback and foreshadowing are two often used literary devices that utilize time in order to produce a desired effect. Flashbacks are used to present action that occurs before the beginning of a story; foreshadowing creates expectation for action that has not yet happened. Faulkner uses both devices in ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ The story is told by the narrator through a series of non-sequential flashbacks. The narrator begins the story by describing the scene of Emily’s funeral; this description, however, is actually a flashback because the story ends with the narrator’s memory of the town’s discovery of the corpse in the Grierson home after Emily’s funeral. Throughout the story, the narrator flashes back and forth through various events in the life and times of Emily Grierson and the town of Jefferson. Each piece of the story told by the narrator prompts another piece of the story, regardless of chronology. For example, the narrator recalls Emily’s funeral, which leads him to remember when Colonel Sartoris relieved her of taxes. This of course leads to the story of the aldermen trying to collect Emily’s taxes after the death of the Colonel. The narrative thus works much in the same haphazard manner as human memory does.
The narrator foreshadows the grisly discovery at the end of the story with several scenes. First, when the aldermen attempt to collect Emily’s taxes, her house is...
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Compare and Contrast
1930s: The 1929 collapse of the stock market in the U.S. leads to the Great Depression. Unemployment grows from 5 million in 1930 to 13 million in 1932 (24.9% of the population).
1990s: The U.S. economy booms. The stock market climbs to unprecedented levels, while unemployment is at a quarter-century low.
1930s: The thirties are part of a three-decade long golden age of radio. Families gather around the radio after dinner to listen to news, sports events, and dramas such as ‘‘The Shadow’’ and ‘‘Little Orphan Annie.’’
1990s: Media is pervasive in late twentieth-century life. The choices seem endless; radio, television (with hundreds of channels), film, and the Internet provide people with information and entertainment twenty-four hours a day.
1930s: Bruno Hauptmann is tried for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. (Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on a solo voyage.) Although many believe that there is a rush to judgement in Hauptmann's conviction, he is executed in 1936 via the electric chair. The press dub the proceedings the ‘‘Trial of the Century.’’
1990s: Former football star O. J. Simpson is arrested for the brutal murder of...
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Topics for Further Study
- Except for the title, roses are never mentioned in the story. Why do you think Faulkner chose this title? Do you think the rose symbolizes anything in the story?
- As the narrator is telling the story of how Emily’s taxes were remitted, he remarks that Colonel Sartoris is the father of an edict declaring that “no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron.” Why do you think the narrator mentions this law? What does this remark tell us about the Colonel Sartoris and the narrator?
- Look up the definition of “eccentric” in the dictionary. Find examples of eccentric characters in literature and film. Compare your examples with Emily Grierson. What qualities do these characters share? What is there to admire or dislike about them?
- Only once in the story does the narrator place an event in a specific year. Find that event and year and see if you can put together a chronology. Does it seem consistent and realistic? Why or why not?
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What Do I Read Next?
- Collected Stories (1950) by William Faulkner is an exhaustive collection of his short fiction. The volume includes ‘‘Barn Burning’’ and many other stories about Yoknapatawpha County.
- The Sound and the Fury (1929) by William Faulkner is the novel that established his reputation as an important writer. This experimental novel concerns the decline of the once proud Compson family of Yoknapatawpha County. The story is told in four sections, each one detailing the disintegration of the Compsons from a different character’s viewpoint. Faulkner used this technique in other novels as well, including As I Lay Dying (1930) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936).
- Many of the works of Flannery O’Connor are in the same Southern Gothic tradition as ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ Her short story ‘‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’’ (1955) details a vacationing family’s doomed encounter with an escaped criminal known as the Misfit.
- Southern playwright Tennessee Williams examined many of the same themes in his work as Faulkner. His play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) is the story of aging, tarnished Southern...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Birk, John F. ‘‘Tryst Beyond Time: Faulkner’s Emily and Keats.’’ In Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 2, Spring 1991, pp. 203-13.
Gregory, Horace. Review of The Collected Stories of William Faulkner. In New York Herald Tribune, August 20, 1950, p. 1.
Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph Blotner. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958. University of Virginia Press, 1959, p. 26.
Hays, Peter L. ‘‘Who Is Faulkner’s Emily?’’ In Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 1988, pp. 105-110.
Levitt, Paul. ‘‘An Analogue for Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’’’ In Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 9, 1973, p. 91.
Littler, Frank A. ‘‘The Tangled Thread of Time: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’’’ In Notes on Mississippi Writers, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1982, p. 80.
Mellard, James M. ‘‘Faulkner’s Miss Emily and Blake’s Sick Rose: Invisible Worm, Nachtraglichkeit, and Retrospective Gothic.’’ In The Faulkner Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall, 1986, pp. 39-41.
Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, 1997, pp. 1, 14, 16.
Rodman, Isaac. ‘‘Irony and Isolation: Narrative Distance in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for...
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha County. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. This venerable classic of Faulkner criticism is one of the best introductions, treating Faulkner’s characteristic themes and historical and social background and offering detailed readings of the major novels and stories. Includes carefully prepared notes, appendixes, and a character index.
Kirk, Robert W., and Marvin Klotz. “A Rose for Emily.” In Faulkner’s People: A Complete Guide and Index to the Characters in the Fiction of William Faulkner. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963. Identifies all the named characters in “A Rose for Emily” and describes the role of each character in terms of the plot.
Porter, Carolyn. William Faulkner. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. A concise and informative biographical work that spans Faulkner’s entire life but focuses primarily on his most prolific period, from 1929 to 1940. Offers insightful analysis of his major works.
Skei, Hans H. “A Rose for Emily.” In Reading Faulkner’s Best Short Stories. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Skei addresses critical questions about apparent inconsistencies in the narrator’s voice and the appropriate genre designation for this story.
Towner, Theresa M. The Cambridge Introduction to William...
(The entire section is 304 words.)