A Rose for Emily Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

A Rose for Emily book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What mental illness did Emily have in "A Rose for Emily"?

The mental illness that Miss Emily has in "A Rose for Emily" could be schizophrenia. Readers must infer a diagnoses based on careful character analysis, as Miss Emily's mental illness is not explicitly identified in the story.

Expert Answers info

Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

bookM.A. from Clemson University

calendarEducator since 2019

write2,164 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

This is a common question, and readers of this gothic short story have speculated on Emily Grierson's mental illness since the story was written. Since her symptoms are only hinted about in the story, we have to make some inferences to arrive at a diagnosis. One common interpretation is that Miss Emily has schizophrenia.

One characteristic of schizophrenia is holding delusions, or having false beliefs that are not based in reality. When Miss Emily's father dies, she meets mourners at the door and insists that he is alive. She continues to do this for three days and only relents when faced with "law and force" to allow people to enter her house.

Another characteristic of someone who is schizophrenic is that they have hallucinations. We can infer that Miss Emily had some sort of hallucinations that drove her to lie in the bed with the body of Homer Barron, as this clearly isn't the response of a healthy mind. It is possible that she believes that Homer is alive, her reality warped by a schizophrenic mind.

Miss Emily also avoids the society around her, and it's possible that she self-isolates because of hallucinations about the townspeople. When the men sneak onto her property to sprinkle lime and try to eliminate the horrific smell which emanates from her home, they spot Miss Emily watching them from a window, her posture seemingly indicating her lack of surprise at their actions.

People who have schizophrenia also have disorganized thinking. Miss Emily refuses to pay her taxes and insists that she doesn't owe any. In fact, she asks the men who try to collect the money to take the issue up with Colonel Sartoris, who has been dead for nearly a decade.

While readers cannot know for sure if Miss Emily is schizophrenic, they do know that Miss Emily lacks a healthy mind and that she cannot function in her society. Schizophrenia is one possibility to explain her otherwise unexplainable behavior.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial