What was the humor in the story A Rose for Emily?
The examples of humor provided by other responders indicate the ways in which Faulkner plays with tone in the story. Much of the humor proceeds from verbal irony in that, for example, the narrator does not directly say the townsmen are silly men to be afraid of this old woman but allows the reader to infer it from the detail he provides. All of these examples of humor, furthermore, serve to characterize Emily as a strong woman, able to control the actions of the town to get her way. In other words, the humor “builds” her character while rendering theirs weak. Significantly, Homer Barron, the love of her life who refuses to marry her, is described as having a “good humor” and not wanting to settle down. It is as if in “settling him down” Emily confiscates his good humor, making it, although ineffectually, her own.
Even though the events in this story are morbid, the narrator tells the story in a light-hearted manner. The ways that Emily deals with the men who come to collect her taxes is an example of this. She tells them to talk to Colonel Sartoris, and when they tell her he's dead, she expects them to discuss it with him anyway. Another example is when the smell develops around Emily's home. When a younger man suggests they confront Emily about it, Judge Stevens asks him, ". . .will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?" The way in which the town decides to deal with the problem of the smell is told humorously as well. You have four grown men sneaking around Miss Emily's house after midnight to spread lime around her house and in her cellar. It is how the narrator tells some of the events that provides the humor in this otherwise gruesome story.
The men do not tell her that Colonel Sartoris is dead. This is simply stated parenthetically as a note for the read, further illustrating Emily's dementia. The humor that exists in the story is satirical; the town's people, representing society in general, are comically ignorant. They gossip like idiots. When Emily buys poison they say she'll kill herself, and insist it's for the best. When she's with a man, they say she'll marry. When the cousins come, they presume to know exactly how Emily feels about the situation. When Emily dies, all the women come to get a good look at the inside of her house. This is a play on the corrupt, heartless nature of man.