What was the humor in the story "A Rose for Emily"?

The humor in this story is the ironic tone taken by the narrator.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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Is there any humor in the story "A Rose for Emily" or is it mainly grimly?

The Glossary of Literary Terms defines humor as:

The quality of a literary or informative work that makes the character/and or situations seem funny, amusing or ludicrous. 

A "quality" is a standard of something measured against something else. In turn, a standard is assigned the value that is desired by whoever is determining it.

This essentially means that it is up to you, and the contextual or personal connections that you make as you read, what determines whether something is "funny," "amusing," or "ludicrous."

Note that something humorous does not have to fit all three of these variables. Hence, to find something amusing, even to a minor degree, implies eliciting humor. 

This being said, there are several things in the story "A Rose for Emily" that are described in ways that befit any of the three descriptors just mentioned. 

1. That nosey narrator

Take, for example, the fact that the narrator is not a narrator per se, but the combination of the voices of the townsfolk.  To a reader who has been raised in a small town or county, such as Emily's Jefferson country, the compilation of observations made by the townsfolk regarding Emily may seem amusing.

It is interesting to observe how people who grow up and live close together acquire a collective identity that leads them to want to look out for "their own."

In "A Rose for Emily" this townsfolk collective of voices knows everything that goes on it he lives of the Grierson's: They know that aunt Wyatt went crazy, that Emily's family thought they were better than everyone else, that there were aunts in Alabama no different than Old Man Grierson, that Old Man Grierson was territorial with Emily, and every kind of information that can only be known when told from person to person.

It is, indeed, amusing (it does not have to be "funny" to be humorous) to see how these dynamics occur. 

2. A modern-day slave?

Another example of humor may experienced by a reader who finds it ludicrous that Emily has managed to keep the equivalent of a modern-day slave serving in her household, up to the day when she died. How in the world do you get to that point in servitude, whether it is a fictional story or not? It may elicit a sarcastic chuckle to even think of this being plausible. Then again, it may come to a shock to other readers to find out that the type of relationship between Tobe and Emily was, actually, possible. 

3. No taxes

Finally, there is the humor that comes from something being actually funny. This quality is also open to interpretation, temperament, and personal connection. Some readers may find it funny that Emily did not flinch and said, plainly and simply, that she isn't paying any taxes in Jefferson country. To someone who has been audited by the Internal Revue Service (IRS), or someone who has been overtaxed in this country, those words from Emily surely would have caused humor. 

4. Dark humor

Let's not forget also another type of humor, not mentioned yet, which is "dark humor."  This one is described by The Free Dictionary as 

...the juxtaposition of morbid and farcical elements (in writing or drama) to give a disturbing effect...

Now, think about this as you read the story "A Rose for Emily." Aren't there enough elements of dark humor, particularly in situations that are, both, ludicrous and amusing (interesting)? Doesn't the end of the story cause, indeed, a very disturbing reaction?

Think about: 

  • Emily, a traditional Southern girl from a haughty family, selecting none other than Homer Barron, a loud, brash Yankee, as her lover. 
  • Emily's refusal to give up the body of her father even days after he died (she has a penchant for the dead, apparently). 
  • Emily's secret: She lived as a married woman for decades, with the decaying corpse of Homer Barron, whom she presumably killed herself by poisoning him. 
  • The entire town had lived by Emily without even knowing that this was going on until the moment that she died and the room was finally opened. 

Aren't these amusing things? They are, indeed, dark and morbid, but nevertheless it is impossible to deny that they are interesting tidbits of life to look into, and ask many, many questions. 

Therefore, there is plenty of humor in the story "A Rose for Emily." Humor does not have to be funny. It simply has to induce amusement, interest, and even curiosity. 

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