A Rose for Emily Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

A Rose for Emily book cover
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What is the irony in the story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is irony in the way the citizens of Jefferson criticize Miss Emily Grierson for being a Southern aristocratic and acting too far above their social class while they proceed to give her special privileges and demand that she honor her "noblesse oblige." The citizens consider Miss Emily a "tradition, a duty, and a care" and allow her special privileges like not requiring her to pay taxes, spreading lime around her home to suppress the awful smell, and allowing her to purchase rat poison without following the proper procedures. Despite the fact that the citizens willfully give Miss Emily a revered status, they criticize her for acting aloof and better than them. They seem to resent Miss Emily because of her social class and even take pleasure in her pain. Their negative feelings for Miss Emily are ironic because they are responsible for holding her in such high regard and treating her like Southern royalty. It is also ironic that the citizens perpetuate the same social hierarchy they despise and demand that Miss Emily recognize her revered status when she begins dating Homer Barron. They become upset that she is forgetting her "noblesse oblige" and believe that it is a shame that Miss Emily is courting a common worker, which is ironically the same behaviors they previously criticized.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The shocking ending of the story is ironic. After Miss Emily's funeral, some men from Jefferson break down the door to an upstairs bedroom in the Grierson house. There they find the room decorated as a bridal chamber. They also find Homer Barron's decayed body in the bed, where he has lain for many years after Emily had poisoned him. Next to Homer, they find one of Emily's long gray hairs on the pillow next to him. Obviously, she had lain next to his remains, even as an old woman.

The irony in the conclusion is found in the discrepency between what the people of Jefferson believed about Emily and what was, in fact, the truth about her. For years, they had believed that they had succeeded in breaking up the inappropriate relationship between Emily and Homer. They had, after all, called in Emily's family when she had taken up with the Yankee laborer, and Homer had then gone away. They had saved Emily from dishonoring her family name. They thought. Ironically, Homer had "gone away" in a very different manner, and Emily had managed to keep Homer with her, after all.

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