Literature Annotations


Faulkner, William
A Rose for Emily


Genre Short Story (7 pp.)
KeywordsAging, Death and Dying, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, Homicide, Loneliness, Time
Summary

This tale covers several decades in the life of the protagonist, Emily Grierson. In a typically Faulknerian style, the reader is led back and forth over time by an unidentified narrator, known only as we. The viewpoint is that of generations of observers in Miss Emily's southern town who have watched and speculated about her since she was a young woman living under the thumb of a father characterized as controlling.

After father's death, Emily lives in the aging family mansion with a manservant as cook, gardener, and general handyman. A few years pass and a handsome laborer from the North arrives as part of a project crew. Emily and this man are seen to be keeping company. One day Emily appears in the apothecary and buys arsenic. The man in question is not seen again by the townspeople.

Thirty years pass and Emily does not leave her home; she ages, grows fat with long, iron-gray hair, and becomes increasingly reclusive, and eventually dies. The now elderly houseman admits the city fathers to the home and disappears, never to be seen again. As the townspeople go through the house they discover a locked door, which when broken down leads into a dusty, musty and faded room. In the bed lie the skeletal remains of a man whose clothes and toiletries (recognized by those who recall Emily purchasing them and having them inscribed with the laborer's initials) occupy the room. On the indented pillow next to the remains is a single, long, iron-gray hair.

Commentary

The power of this tale resides in the manner in which the story is spun out. The narrator, who speaks for the townspeople who have been watching the Griersons for more than one generation, remains ignorant of anything the principals think and feel, and only partially competent to relate what they do. Thus, the sense of mystery is maintained throughout. The reader must fill in the details that are hinted at, but rarely substantiated. This continuing sense of uncertainty allows a range of interpretations and leads to wonderful classroom discussions. Who was this woman? Was she mad? Did she kill her suitor? All of the evidence is circumstantial and the case remains unresolved.

SourceCollected Stories
PublisherRandom House/Vintage
EditionCopyright 1930,1958
Place PublishedNew York
Alternate SourceLiterature and its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama
Alternate PublisherBedford/St. Martin's
Alternate Edition2001
Alternate EditorsAnn Charters & Samuel Charters
Place PublishedBoston
Annotated by Willms, Janice L.
Date of Entry 01/05/06
Last Revised 01/30/06