What are some examples of "madness" in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Faulkner's "A Rose for Miss Emily" depicts madness in many forms and through many characters.

Miss Emily's father demonstrates a kind of madness when he refuses all of his daughter's suitors because they were not good enough; clearly he was stuck in some notion of the past and could not be realistic about the present.

Homer Barron must have been a bit mad to keep coming back to Miss Emily; he had many indications that he should have left and did not do so.

The town authorities clearly display a kind of madness when they are so thoroughly intimidated by Miss Emily that four grown men slink around her house after midnight, sniffing the ground and spreading lime, hoping Miss Emily will not catch them. Or when they allow her not to pay taxes like everyone else just because she looks at them imperiously and says she will not do so.

Obviously there is plenty of madness to go around in this story, but of course Miss Emily displays the most madness. She keeps her father's dead body for three days before the authorities can finally take it from her. After she and Homer Barron scandalously become lovers, the ladies in town force the Baptist minister to go and talk to her; he never reveals what happened during that interview, but it had to have been outrageously mad since he refused to enter Miss Emily's house again--ever. Her three cousins have the same kind of reaction when they come to chide her for her scandalous behavior. They do not stay long.

Miss Emily certainly displays a kind of madness when she boldly purchases poison and lies about why she needs it; and when she keeps her dead lover's body for years and then sleeps next to him (at least sometimes), she must also have been mad.

Some of what what I am calling madness may just be the quirkiness of an aging Southern belle (a kind of relic) who has been robbed of an opportunity for happiness and therefore prefers her own company to others'; however, Miss Emily also certainly demonstrates madness in some of its most gruesome forms. While it is easy to point to the grotesque and macabre things Miss Emily does, she does many other things worthy of the term "madness." 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Faulkner's Southern Gothic masterpiece, "A Rose for Emily," is disordered in time, perhaps as a reflection of the disorder in particular characters' minds.

The titular character, Miss Emily Grierson, suffers from a disorder of time. That is, she suffers from a mad hold on the past. For example, she is firmly convinced that Colonel Sartoris, who was once the mayor of the town, has provided for "a dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity." In other words, Miss Emily believes that she never has to pay taxes because Colonel Sartoris made arrangements that the Griersons were exempt from paying taxes. But when the "next generation" in town becomes aldermen and mayor, they know nothing of such an arrangement. Nevertheless, when a deputation visits her, Miss Emily insists,

"I have no taxes in Jefferson.... Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves."
"But we have. We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn't you get a notice from the sheriff signed by him?"
"See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But, Miss Emily—"
"See Colonel Sartoris."

Colonel Sartoris, however, has been dead about ten years.

Of course, the strongest example of madness in Emily Grierson is revealed at the end of Faulkner's story. After Miss Emily's death in a room downstairs, the ladies of town arrive and are given entrance to her home by the old servant. Later, after Emily is buried, the townsfolk return and enter a room upstairs. There they find evidence of Emily's madness when they discover the rotted body of Homer Barron lying on a bed and covered with dust. To add to their horror, the townsfolk discover the indention of a head on the other pillow, and on this pillow is a long strand of "iron-gray hair" that apparently belonged to Miss Emily.