How do Gothic elements in "A Rose for Emily" advance the plot and establish the atmosphere?

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The collective narrator, representing the townspeople, is key to the plot and atmosphere of "A Rose for Emily."

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In A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, Faulkner uses several Gothic elements to create an eerie feeling. In general, Gothic writers imbue their stories with horror, death, and gloom, and these features are all present in A Rose for Emily.

Specifically, the author establishes a morbid atmosphere. First, the story commences with a death and an allusion to a funeral and cemetery. At the opening, Miss Emily Grierson has recently died. In the second paragraph, the author writes:

And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.

Further on when Faulkner describes Miss Emily’s death, Faulkner says:

And so she died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows….She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight.

In fact, in a short story that spans only nine pages, there are three deaths referenced. In addition to Miss Emily, Faulkner also refers to the death of her father and her boyfriend, Homer Barron. Faulkner also uses words such as “skeleton” and “black” to describe Miss Emily herself and clads her in black. Black is a typically characteristic gothic color. Miss Emily is described as “a small, fat woman in black.” Moreover, Miss Emily is “leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare.”

Although it is not an old, drafty castle, even Miss Emily’s house has a gothic feel. It is described as:

a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies.

Moreover, as in many other gothic stories, the house is in “decay.”

The story features a mysterious death and likely a murder. After Miss Emily’s death, the local townspeople take it upon themselves to enter her home in a scene that is characterized by violence—Faulkner specifically uses the word—and a surprising newly-discovered death. He writes:

The violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust. A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man's toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured. Among them lay a collar and tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust. Upon a chair hung the suit, carefully folded; beneath it the two mute shoes and the discarded socks.

The man himself lay in the bed.

This ending is a surprise twist. The skeleton of Miss Emily’s long dead boyfriend is in the bed with the impression of Miss Emily’s head next to his pillow. Faulkner makes it clear that Miss Emily has been sleeping with the lifeless body of her lover since his death.

Moreover, earlier descriptions of an unpleasant odor emanating from her house and her mysterious purchase of rat poisoning and her refusal to tell the chemist what she intends to use the rat poison for also suggest that Miss Emily killed her beau and morbidly kept his dead body in her home for years.

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The following elements of Gothic literature contribute to the mysterious and ultimately chilling tone in A Rose for Emily:

Dark, Abandoned, Decaying Settings: When Miss Emily dies, it is noted that no one except her "manservant" has been inside her house in at least ten years. And, of course, there is human decay happening inside her house, though the nearby residents cannot place the source of the foul smell that emanates from the home. This sense of solitude and physical decay is characteristic of Gothic literature.

Horror: Faulkner crafts a tale that creates an eerie sense of foreboding. Miss Emily seems, on one hand, a harmless older lady and, on the other, a lady who is covering up something, which seems to intensify with the sudden disappearance of Homer Barron following her purchase of arsenic. And, of course, the horror is fully realized in the final paragraphs.

Explorations of Romance and Sexuality: Miss Emily has kept Homer Barron inside her house, in a bedroom, his clothes discarded near the bed, for all these years. He has lain in the bed and on the pillow rests Miss Emily's "long strand of iron-gray hair." She has visited Homer all these years in a bedroom she has kept for him.

Anti-Heroes: Miss Emily isn't exactly a traditional protagonist. She is isolated, mentally unstable, and overall rejected by a society who views her with a mixture of pity and suspicion. She is innately flawed, which is a common quality in Gothic protagonists.

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Faulkner incorporates several Gothic elements throughout his short story "A Rose for Emily" that move the plot forward and establish an atmosphere. The story opens with the funeral of a mysterious woman, Emily Grierson, who lived in a deteriorating mansion described as being an "eyesore" to the town of Jefferson. Faulkner's use of mystery, death, and decay creates the ominous atmosphere that is often associated with Gothic literature. Emily's physical appearance shares similarities with a dead body, and the horrible smell coming from her home suggests that something has died inside. Emily's denial of her father's death suggests that she is mentally unstable, and purchasing arsenic moves the plot forward while simultaneously creating suspense. The fact that Emily rarely leaves her home and nobody enters adds to the ominous atmosphere. Homer Barron's disappearance moves the plot forward, and Emily's death creates tension as the reader wonders what is inside her home. Faulkner concludes the story when the townspeople break down Emily's door to her upstairs room. They end up finding a skeleton on the bed, along with a strand of Emily's gray hair on the pillow beside it, which suggests that she had been sleeping with the corpse. Faulkner's Gothic elements of death, decay, mystery, and mental illness create a dark atmosphere of suspense that moves the plot forward. 

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Faulkner uses a number of gothic elements in the plot of 'A Rose For Emily' and these elements add to the drama and suspense and also help the readers' minds to carry the action forward in their minds by suggesting doubts, making a creepy atmosphere where anything is possible and weaving tension and suspense. These elements forward the plot by sparking the reader's own imagination and often imagination is more vividly fired by our fears. For example, a big creepy dark neglected old house where no one is ever seen leaving is more likely to be be suspected of having dubious occupants. Add to that an old lady, some townsfolk gossip, some bad sour memories or grudges and the author has successfully created a fertile garden - all Faulkner then had to do was to sow the seeds of suspicion.

Gothic tales are often associated with loneliness, isolation, mystery and mystique coupled with a Romantic and moody backdrop so look for evidence of these and cite them when trying to establish the atmosphere. Also look into Emily's background and the history of her family in the town and ask whether isolated townspeople are more likely to jump to judgemental conclusions when they hear from others that they may have cause. Faulkner foreshadows the gruesome discovery by first outlining the way Emily kept her own father's body for three days - a perfect scenario for that kind of setting, for example.

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How do the elements in "A Rose for Emily" forward the plot and establish the atmosphere?

In "A Rose for Emily," one element that is central to the plot and atmosphere is the collective narrator, who represents the townspeople.

The townspeople, serving as the narrator, reveal information in a haphazard (seemingly) manner, looking at Emily and the situation from the outside, in.  This is central to the story.

This enables plot to be revealed in a seemingly random order, and in bits and pieces, as if an outsider is looking in and doesn't know the whole story.  Thus, the reader does not make the connection between Homer's disappearance and his murder by Emily. 

Obviously, the surprise ending could never be accomplished if Emily, her servant, her father, or Homer were the narrator.  Anyone on the "inside" could not ethically conceal Emily's murder of Homer.  Or, if we're looking at all possibilities, if Emily were the narrator and kept the murder hidden, the story would be drastically changed into a psychological study.  It would not be the same story.

The plot and the atmosphere depend on an observing narrator who observes from outside the house.  That is central to the plot and the atmosphere.  The outsider narrator observes the real outsider, Emily.  For the eerie, confused, unnatural atmosphere of the story to exist, and for that atmosphere to culminate in the hideous final scene and surprise the reader, the narrator must be outside the home.

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