"A Rose for Emily" perfectly represents the Southern Gothic genre of which Faulkner is a leading author. Stemming from the Romantic genre, Gothic literature has unique and specific traits that distinguish it from any other forms.
- a) fate versus personal choice
- b) the intervention of the supernatural
- c) isolation, nostalgia, desolation
- d) inevitability in life and death
- e) a decrepit, run down manor or estate that shows signs of long-gone grandeur.
"A Rose for Emily" reunites these very characteristics, and they are mainly described to the reader in Part One. During this part of the story, the townsfolk narrator describes the current conditions of Emily Grierson's estate as "an eyesore among eyesores" (the decrepit, run-down building Gothic motif), and the condition of the late Miss Emily as a "poor", lonely and somewhat unstable woman who once belonged to the upper classes during her lifetime (inevitability in life and death). This is the way in which the story clearly introduces itself as a representative of the genre.
Yet, a specific quote from the story that exemplifies how the Gothic elements move the plot forward can be found in Part Two. This is the part of the story that focuses on the strange smell that kept coming from Emily's house. The reader will later realize that this smell was the smell of death, itself; of the decaying body of Homer Barron. However, this is an unknown fact when the section starts, as it is said to have occurred
...two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would marry her --had deserted her.
When the city government had no choice but to execute an order to obligate Emily to clean her home, people who were sorry for her came late during the night to spread limestone around her decaying house. This secret mission was aimed to, both, extinguish the smell and to avoid a confrontation with Miss Emily.
Yet, it is the fact that the smell really comes from a dead man, plus the fact that this is something only known to Miss Emily, what makes the following quote all the more Gothic; for it depicts Emily as a form of supernatural, strange, and almost mythical creature, that looks down on them from a dark, creepy distance.
They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol.
This quote describes a very strong Gothic trait; the touch of the supernatural in the general description of a passage which, in itself, hides a deep, dark secret. Therefore, the combination of what is known and what is unknown plus the use of darkness, light, and mystery, come together to push the plot forward toward the final surprise: the finding of Homer Barron's carcass laid on Miss Emily's bed after all these years.
With its emphasis upon themes of terror, death, and social interaction, Southern Gothic finds history vital to its narratives. While the five sections of Faulkner's story are not in sequential order, the visual quality of the Old South and its haunted history is woven throughout each of these sections. Truly, William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is a ghost story, with Emily playing the role of the spectre, a ghost from the Old South.
In Section I of the story, for instance, Emily Grierson is described as a sort of "fallen monument," an image that recurs throughout the narrative:
...a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris...remitted her taxes....
In Section II as four men slink about the house and yard searching for the odd odor, much like a monument, Emily sits stone-like in a window lighted behind her,...and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol.
Later, in Section III, Emily is described again as an icon that
carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen.
In Section IV, Emily is described as "a carven torso of an idol in a niche,..." that passes from generation to generation,
dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse
until, finally, she is truly the fallen icon with a fleshless grin, and her grey head "yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight."
Finally, in Section V, there is the image of the fallen monument in her coffin with old men in Confederate uniforms attendant upon it and the house within which this idol resided covered with dust. The antiquated South, thus, haunts the narrative and unifies the sections with its allusions to monuments and statues as a Gothic motif that advances the plot.