What is Faulkner's attitude toward Miss Emily in his short story "A Rose for Emily"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner describes a lady who never really had a chance at happiness. Emily’s early life was dominated by her father.  One scene is described showing the father standing in the yard with his riding crop and Emily standing in the background. Her father deterred her from having boyfriends by saying that they were never good enough for her.

When her father died, Emily was left with only the family house.  Refusing to admit that her father died, Emily had to be made to let the townspeople take her father for burial. Emily was sick for several months. 

Two years later, Homer Barron came to town and into Emily’s life.  His attention included taking Emily for a Sunday carriage ride.  This started the gossip.

Throughout Emily’s adult life, the townspeople took an interest in her life. They talked, gossiped, and decided what should be done about her. When the women of the town decided that Homer was compromising Emily’s good name, the Baptist minister was sent to talk to her.  He refused to ever go again.  Then, the cousins were sent for from Alabama.

While the cousins were there, Emily bought arsenic from the druggist.  She ordered a men’s toiletry set with H.B. engraved on it.  Finally, she had a suit of clothing and night wear made with the same initials. 

Everyone thought that the two would marry.  Homer had admitted to being a homosexual. This did not matter since he had to make an honest woman of Emily.  The cousins left, and Homer was seen going in the back door of Emily’s house.  He was never seen again. 

The smell incident occurred.  The neighbors complained to the mayor.  There were covert meetings and a group sent out to place lime around the property.  Eventually, the smell went away. 

The years pass and little was seen of Emily.  She gave china tea painting lessons for a few years. Finally, the new town counsel tried to get Emily to pay her taxes.  By this time, as an old lady, she sent the men on their way telling them to check with Colonel Sartoris, who had been dead for many years. 

The story begins and ends with the death of Emily.

And so she died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her. We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro.

When she died, it was in the downstairs bedroom.  The entire town turned out for her funeral.  Part of them came to actually pay their respects, and the other half to be able to snoop around Emily’s house.

The narrator who is a member of the town informs the reader that the town had known something was strange in the upstairs bedroom for a long time.  When the door was opened, a skeleton was discovered with the H.B. nightshirt on.  In addition, next to the corpse was a pillow with a gray hair lying on it.

To answer the question, Faulkner was interviewed about the story in 1955.   The author was asked about the title of the story and the reference to the rose.  There are no actual flowers given to Emily in the story. 

Faulkner said that Emily had lived a lonely, desolate life that he felt as though she deserved a rose. The people of the town did little to actually help Emily.  Other than Tobe, she was alone all of her life.  She had to resort to a gruesome way to find the love that she so desperately wanted.    Faulkner gave the flower to her in the title of the story.

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A Rose for Emily

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