When you first read the story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, when did you realize how it would end? What is your response to the end?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Obviously the answer to when an individual reader figures out that Emily has murdered Homer Barron years ago will vary greatly. Having taught this story for several years to high school students, I can attest to the fact that most students don't figure it out until the very end, and many students are still confused about what happened even when they have finished the story. The jumbled timeline is one way that Faulkner keeps his readers off balance, making it less likely that they will guess what Emily did in her thirties. Most people have a good idea that when Emily is buying rat poison, she wants to murder someone with it because she asks for the strongest poison the druggist has and refuses to say what she wants it for. But since the issue of the horrible smell around Emily's house is reported in section II of the story and Homer Barron's disappearance is described in section IV, many readers have a hard time reconstructing the timeline while they are reading the story to make the smell come shortly after Barron's disappearance. In addition, the fact that Emily ordered what seemed to be wedding gifts for Barron seems inconsistent with her wanting to poison him. Not only that, but Miss Emily's family servant who stays with her until her death seems a mute testimony that nothing too horrific can have gone on under her roof, to say nothing of her opening up her home for china-painting lessons. Therefore, most readers can be forgiven for being completely in the dark until the third paragraph from the end.

Regarding the ending, especially the suggestion of necrophilia, most people are, to put it in student language, "grossed out" by it. Readers tend to be first disgusted, then surprised, and then confused. Only when they take time to look back over the story do they come to appreciate Faulkner's skill in weaving this unusual and creepy story. 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After learning about the terrible smell that pervades Emily's home, I became suspicious, but I really began to suspect that Emily would poison someone after she purchases the rat poison from the druggist, reluctant to say what her plans for the poison are. If she was purchasing the poison for some normal, legal reason, then she wouldn't have so much trouble saying what it was for.

While the end certainly horrified me out at first (the idea of seeing, let alone sleeping next to, a decayed and rotting body is terrible), I have come to recognize Emily's strange behavior as the desperate actions of a desperate woman. When her father died, leaving her utterly alone, he had already chased away all her suitors, because he believed that they were not good enough for her. She held on to her father's body for several days, well past the point of it remaining fresh, and it seemed as though the prospect of being finally alone was so frightening for her that she would rather have kept her father's decomposing body than admit to herself that she was all by herself now. Rather than allow Homer Barron to leave her, it seems, she killed him. In this way, she can keep him forever and never have to face the solitude that seems so frightening to her.

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A Rose for Emily

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