Understanding the Importance of Setting: The settings in “A Rose for Emily”—the Grierson home; the town of Jefferson, Mississippi—play critical roles in developing the themes in the text. The decaying house acts as a complex symbol, reflecting Emily Grierson’s own stunted development as well as the social and moral decay associated with the destruction of the ideals that had elevated the pre–Civil War South. The shifting attitudes the townspeople hold toward the Grierson home reflect changes in Southern culture: While her taxes were once remitted out of a sense of chivalry, as generations pass, Emily’s house is just one more property with taxes due.
- For discussion: What was the Grierson home like when it was first built? How has it changed over the course of Emily’s life?
- For discussion: How does the town of Jefferson change over the course of the story? How do the townspeople’s attitudes toward Emily and her home change?
- For discussion: (How) Does the Grierson house affect the mood of the story? (How) Does the narrator’s description of the house develop tone?
- For discussion: What abstract ideas could the Grierson house symbolize? What textual evidence can be cited to support these readings?
Analyzing Indirect Characterization: Emily is a sheltered woman unable to adapt to the modern world. She’s also a woman who kills her beloved with rat poison and, presumably, sleeps beside his corpse. As an upper-class white woman in Mississippi at the turn of the twentieth century—over thirty and unmarried—Emily’s behavior is subject to close scrutiny by her neighbors. However, their understanding of Emily is limited by their strict expectations of her and the chivalrous code that prevents them from interacting with her directly. Thus, the story neither condemns nor excuses Emily’s behavior.
- For discussion: How does Emily’s character develop over the course of the story? What dialogue and behaviors are most important for understanding her character?
- For discussion: Describe Emily’s relationship with her father. How does this relationship affect the course of her life?
- For discussion: What expectations and social norms are Emily confronted with in her life? In what ways does she adhere to those norms, and in what ways does she defy them? Does her defiance alter her circumstances at all? Why or why not?
- For discussion: As the story progresses, are your opinions of Emily similar to or different from the townspeople’s? How so? Why? What is your final impression of Emily?
Describing Narrative Voice: Though “A Rose for Emily” is predominantly a story about Emily Grierson’s life, it’s told from the perspective of the townspeople, who observe Emily from a distance. Alternately critical and sympathetic, and with questionable reliability and motives, the first-personal plural narrator offers a gossipy, curious glimpse into the life of Emily Grierson.
- For discussion: What seems to be the townspeople’s attitude toward Emily? Toward women in general? Do these attitudes develop over the course of the story? How so? Why?
- For discussion: What are the townspeople’s attitudes toward Homer Barron and toward Tobe? Do these attitudes shift over the course of the story? How so? Why?
- For discussion: When does the narrative eye focus on specific demographics within the collective of the townspeople, such as the mayor or the church ladies? How do these social delineations develop themes in the story?
- For discussion: What is added to Emily’s story by telling it from an outside perspective? How might the story have differed if it was told from Emily’s perspective?
Isolation and Loneliness as Themes: Themes of isolation and loneliness reverberate throughout “A Rose for Emily.” Frequently, Emily is compared to an idol: she is an entity that is seen and marveled at, yet she stands apart from those around her. But Emily is not alone: Tobe, Homer Barron, and even the antiquated small-town lifestyle of Jefferson as a whole are all removed from larger...
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