“A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner
The following entry presents criticism of Faulkner's short story “A Rose for Emily”(1931). See also "The Bear" Criticism.
“A Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner's most anthologized stories. Drawing on the tradition of Gothic literature in America, particularly Southern Gothic, the story uses grotesque imagery and first-person-plural narration to explore a culture unable to cope with its own death and decay.
Plot and Major Characters
“A Rose for Emily” begins with the announcement of the death of Miss Emily Grierson, an alienated spinster living in the South in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The narrator, who speaks in the “we” voice and appears to represent the people of the town, recounts the story of Emily's life as a lonely and impoverished woman left penniless by her father, who drove away suitors from his overprotected daughter. Emily was left when her father died with a large, dilapidated house, into which the townspeople have never been invited, and there is an almost lurid interest among them when they are finally able to enter the house upon Emily's death. At that point they discover the truth about the extent of Emily's problems: she has kept the body of her lover, a Northerner named Homer Barron, locked in a bedroom since she killed him years before, and she has continued to sleep with him.
A variety of themes have been attributed to “A Rose for Emily.” Many critics have focused on Emily's attempts to stop time by confusing past and present and refusing to accept change; similarly, the muddled chronology of events in the story has been a subject of great debate. Both issues have been interpreted as symbolic of the American South's inability to move forward along with the industrialized North after the Civil War. Another analysis finds Emily to be a tragic figure because of her staunch individualism and the probing and judgmental speculations of the townspeople. Still other critics trace the story's significance to Gothic and horror literature going back to Edgar Allan Poe.
Although “A Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner's best-known stories, it has not generally been considered his greatest achievement in short fiction. In fact, some critics initially accused Faulkner of writing a shallow and exploitative horror story. More recently, however, some critics have questioned the traditionally accepted interpretations of the story, focusing in particular on the role of the unnamed narrator in the story and on the metaphoric rape of Emily through the posthumous invasion of her house.