The title of William Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily” seems relevant to the story in a number of possible ways:
- To give a rose to someone is to show appreciation to that person, perhaps even affection. The title may thus be seen as indicating a kind of wry tribute to Emily. In some ways the story presents her as a strange (and estranged) eccentric, but its depiction of her is never brutally satiric or mocking. Faulkner himself said of the title that it
was an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute, just as if you were to make a gesture, a salute, to anyone; to a woman you would hand a rose . . .
- The rose seems appropriate, at least in conventional and stereotypical terms, because Emily is a woman. Roses even today are more often presented to women than to men.
- Faulkner makes something beautiful and memorable out of the sad story of Emily’s life; the story is a kind of rose presented to her as a tribute to her suffering.
- Just as Emily was once young and then faded into old age, so roses also inevitably lose their vitality and beauty.
- The rose has been seen as a symbol of the kind of ideals that motivate Miss Emily as she grows older in a town whose values are increasingly less genteel, and more materialistic, than hers.
- For other possibilities, see Tom Cohen’s book Anti-Mimesis from Plato to Hitchcock (linked below).
In 1959, Faulkner gave an interview in which he answered the question why he titled the story, "A Rose for Miss Emily."
Essentially, Faulkner said that the story was about a woman who had "no life at all." Her father, the real villain of the story, had prevented Emily from having a normal life--he sent away every eligible suitor she had when she was of marriageable age because they were, from the father's viewpoint, unsuitable. So, her life centered on the care of her father, and she was deprived of a normal upper-class woman's life--finding love, getting married, having children and a home. Instead, she spent her productive years taking care of an intensely selfish father who "wanted a housekeeper." Faulkner then said the natural instinct for domestic life, if it is repressed, comes out "very likely in a tragic form," in Miss Emily's case, as a completely perverted attempt to replicate the normal life that she couldn't have.
In the end, according to Faulkner, even though she was a murderess, she deserved such a simple thing as a beautiful rose to make up for the life she was never allowed to have.
Here is the link to the book by Cohen: