"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner ranks as a masterpiece in American Literature. Miss Emily Grierson, the protagonist, is an enigmatic character. The reader feels as though he knows her, but she is profoundly mysterious.
The story spans over seventy four years: the time of Emily's life. Jefferson, her home town, represents all of the small southern towns in the south and in Faulkner's writing, Mississippi. Emily's life begins pre-Civil War when the "Old South" cherished women.
In the "Old South" in the upper and middle class, men protected, cherished, loved, and dominated women. Men took care of everything outside of the house. Inside the house, women spent their time preparing for the men to return and eat or pleasure themselves.
This was the life style of Emily with one exception. Her father reigned over the entirety of her life while he was alive. He kept her from happiness by sending away or rejecting all of her suitors or boyfriends. He wanted her for himself as his companion [not in a perverted way], and he would have what he wanted.
Unfortunately, when he died, Emily was about thirty years old, and in those times she would have been called a spinster or old maid. She did have one boyfriend after her father died, but he left her. Although the reader is not told why, it may have been because her father left her penniless. What a selfish man to have kept her from happiness and then to leave her with nothing but her house.
Life was not easy for Emily. She was alone, looked upon as an oddity, and left to her own devices. As the south changed, Emily did not. She did not accept death. When her father died, she kept him from the undertaker for three days saying that he was not dead. At the age of 65, the new council men tried to make Emily pay her taxes, and she referred them to Colonel Sartoris who had been dead for many years.
Of course, the one that she never let go was Homer Barron. He tried to leave her, but she did not allow it. With the help of her servant, Emily kept this man all to herself for about forty years. Evidently, the town knew something about it:
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced.They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.
The town knew and did nothing while she was alive. Insanity ran in her family the gossips told the reader. But no one in the town was willing to intervene and help Emily.
In reviewing the story, a critic asked Faulkner about the rose in the title. It was never mentioned in the story. Faulkner replied that if anyone in the world deserved something beautiful and representative of a more genteel life it was Miss Emily. She had suffered long enough. So the author gave Emily Grierson her rose in the title of the story.