Overview

"A Rose for Emily" is a short story by William Faulkner that exemplifies the Southern gothic genre.
  • Miss Emily Grierson's funeral is attended by everyone in town. She was a relic of the Southern gentry and spent her life isolated from the community.
  • Emily's father prevented her from socializing when she was young. After his death, Emily became the frequent companion of a lower-class Northerner, Homer Barron. It was rumored that they were engaged.
  • Homer vanished. For the rest of Emily's life—over thirty years—she remained in her house.
  • Exploring Emily's house after her funeral, the townspeople find a man's skeleton in her bed. It is strongly implied to be Homer Barron's.

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Summary

Introduction

William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” was published in the April 30, 1930 edition of Forum magazine. It was Faulkner’s first short story to be published in a notable magazine. Though it received minimal attention after its first publication, “A Rose For Emily” has gone on to be one of Faulkner’s most popular works. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, and is now hailed as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His works deal primarily with the cultural shifts that occurred in the post-Civil War South. “A Rose For Emily” is one of many of Faulkner’s works, such as Sartoris, to be set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

“A Rose For Emily” uses a non-chronological structure to tell the story of Emily Grierson. Emily, a faded Southern Bell, dies at the age of 74 after leading an isolated life. The curious townsfolk come together for her funeral and reflect on her history in Jefferson, Mississippi. Their recollections include the details of Emily’s scandalous relationship with a Northern laborer named Homer Barron. The narrator uses the collective pronoun “we” in order to give the sense that the entire town is reflecting on Emily’s life. The story is sometimes read as an allegory for the resistance of the Old South, as represented by Emily, to modernization, as represented by both Homer and the younger generations of Jefferson.

Plot Summary

William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is set in the antebellum South, as the entire population of the city of Jefferson attends Emily Grierson’s funeral. Emily, the last member of the aristocratic Grierson family, led an isolated life. The people of Jefferson viewed her as a “hereditary obligation upon the town” ever since a previous mayor remitted her taxes. Now that she has passed away, people are curious to see the inside of her house, which has been sealed for ten years.

The story then shifts into the past and tells the story of Emily’s life. Section one reveals that Emily was raised by a controlling father who drove away all of her suitors, believing that none of them were good enough for his daughter. After her father died, Emily was left a destitute spinster. As a show of respect for her aristocratic status, Colonel Sartoris, the mayor of Jefferson at the time, remitted Emily's taxes. He did so by fabricating a story about Emily’s father having given a large amount of money to the town. Years later, when the younger generation of politicians began attempting to get Emily to pay her taxes, she refused, telling them to “see Colonel Sartoris.” However, Colonel Sartoris had been dead for ten years by that point.

Section two details an incident from two years after Emily’s father’s death. Shortly after Emily’s sweetheart abandoned her, a smell began emanating from her house. The neighbors asked old Judge Stevens to talk to her about it. However, Judge Stevens scolded them for even considering confronting a woman of Emily’s status about smelling bad. So, late one night, a group of men snuck onto Emily’s estate and sprinkled lime around the house to combat the smell. Around that time, the townspeople began to speculate that Emily was “crazy,” citing her reaction to her father’s death as additional evidence....

(The entire section is 1,043 words.)