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Essay A Rose For Emily

Book Report Essay: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” was originally published in the April 30, 1930. An unnamed narrator describes the strange circumstances of Emily’s life and her strange relationships with her father, her lover, and the horrible mystery she conceals. The action takes place in the town of Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha. Jefferson is a critical setting in much of Faulkner’s fiction. The principal themes of the story are: bitterness, resentment, generation gap, disillusionment and suppressed forbidden love.

The story helps understand the human psyche. The author touches various issues connected with dark aspects of human life. In Faulkner’s position I cannot find absolute evil or good. Both those aspects form human soul.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” tells a reader how a spinster is hoarding the body of the killed lover. The story deals with a murder caused by possessive love, showing the face of death which results in repulsion and compassion. The woman not only took away her lover’s life, she also kept the dead body in her house. As a result, I understand that she punished him by eternal life with her. Emily had a husband for her own. While reading this story, I witnessed that Emily was not afraid of dying. The death made an agreement with Emily which was based on life for life principle. Emily had to give her own freedom and personality. The author shows how death can reveal human secrets and mysteries and change indifference into sympathy.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a story of a woman who has killed her lover and lain for years beside his decaying body.

“A Rose for Emily is trivial in its horror and a psychopathological case story which is able to titillate readers. I consider that the horror is meaningful in this story.

Emily can be described as a conscious woman who possesses freedom of decision and independence of spirit. Emily perceives the world on her own rules. Her conduct shows impressive and remarkable aspects in her personality. Her actions are based on decisions of value.

The main concept of the story is that if a person resists change, he/she must love and live with death. Consequently, nobody must resist or fully accept change. Death is first described in the first paragraph of the story. Then it is repeated in the tale, including the death of her father, of Colonel Sartoris, and finally of Homer Barron. Homer Barron is a largely flat character. He plays an integral part, for it is he that supplies the cadaver so imperative to the plot. According to the collective narrator, he is “a Northerner, a day laborer,” “a big, dark, ready man,” he laughs a lot, and he curses “the niggers” (Faulkner, 669). Emily’s figure is controversial. The story makes the reader create around Emily an aura of elevated meanings, to perceive her as an impressive and symbolic figure. While reading the story, one can feel pressure among different ways of perceiving the main character. There is no doubt that Emily committed a pathological murder. I consider that the most impressive moment of the story is the picture of lover’s poisoning and later, the harboring of his dissolving body for a long period (forty years). Emily was treating the corpse of her dead lover as still living for several years. William Faulkner constructed the image of the woman whose contact with reality was insufficient. Emily’s borderline between reality and fantasy was blurred.

Emily is struggling with her generation, life and traditions in the Old South.

In this story the author’s language predicts and builds up to the climax of the story. Faulkner’s choice of words is descriptive. “A Rose for Emily” begins with death, turns to the near distant past. Consequently, it leads on to the decease of a woman and the traditions of the past she personified in the story.

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is considered to be a multi-layered masterpiece. The author uses the language, characterization, and chronology, a psychological narrative, and a sober commentary.

The author begins his story at the end. The reader finds out that Miss Emily died. That is, why I can conclude that death is one of the principal themes in this tale which helps us understand the borderline between life and death, value of parents, lovers in our lives. The death of two people close to Emily, influence her character. Her father and her lover die. When Emily’s father dies, the people try to advise her to bury him. Only after three days she understood he must be buried. Everybody begins to feel sorry for Emily. The only thing left to this woman is the house where she lives alone and pauper. Consequently, she becomes sick.

Miss Emily’s house represents “stubborn and coquettish decay” above new generations and traditions, “an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner, 666). The house has been closed to the public for ten years. It “smelled of dust and disuse – a closed, dank smell”, and when visitors were seated a “faint dust” rose “sluggishly about their thighs” (Faulkner, 667). At the climate ending Emily is described to be a woman, who “looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water and of that pallid hue” (667). While reading this story I could feel that her “voice was dry and cold” (667). I suppose that Faulkner flashed back in time in order to reveal the circumstances that led to death. The first suspected episode that caught my curiosity is the mention of “the smell”, which occurred “thirty years before” (667). During the whole story the author kept his readers guessing the significance of the “smell”.

The author also hints at the tragic ending while describing the death of Emily’s father, of Colonel Sartoris: “She told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner, 669). And then, the unknown narrator comments: “We didn’t say she was crazy then” (669). The author alludes to the tragic end when Miss Emily purchased the arsenic, she looked through her “cold, haughty black eyes…” (Faulkner,670).

In conclusion I may say that Emily was not afraid of dying. She was not understood by her contemporaries. Her father was a stubborn man who thought that no one was good enough for his daughter. He drove away all the young men who were interested in his daughter. And when Emily fell in love with Homer Barron, later she found out he liked men and was not a “marrying man”. All these factors resulted in Emily’s decision to choose death as the only possible means.


1. Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: The Human Experience. 8th ed. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 666–672.
2. Allen, Dennis W. “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.'” Modern Fiction Studies 30, 4 (1984): 685-96.
3. Inge, M. Thomas, ed. William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily. The Merrill Literary Casebook Series. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill, 1970.
4. Barnes, Daniel R. “Faulkner’s Miss Emily and Hawthorne’s Old Maid.” Studies in Short Fiction 9 (1972): 373-77.
5. Rodgers, Lawrence R. “‘We All Said, “She Will Kill Herself”’: The Narrator/Detective in William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” Clues: A Journal of Detection 16.1 (Spring-Summer 1995): 117-29.

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Tradition versus Change

Through the mysterious figure of Emily Grierson, Faulkner conveys the struggle that comes from trying to maintain tradition in the face of widespread, radical change. Jefferson is at a crossroads, embracing a modern, more commercial future while still perched on the edge of the past, from the faded glory of the Grierson home to the town cemetery where anonymous Civil War soldiers have been laid to rest. Emily herself is a tradition, steadfastly staying the same over the years despite many changes in her community. She is in many ways a mixed blessing. As a living monument to the past, she represents the traditions that people wish to respect and honor; however, she is also a burden and entirely cut off from the outside world, nursing eccentricities that others cannot understand.

Emily lives in a timeless vacuum and world of her own making. Refusing to have metallic numbers affixed to the side of her house when the town receives modern mail service, she is out of touch with the reality that constantly threatens to break through her carefully sealed perimeters. Garages and cotton gins have replaced the grand antebellum homes. The aldermen try to break with the unofficial agreement about taxes once forged between Colonel Sartoris and Emily. This new and younger generation of leaders brings in Homer’s company to pave the sidewalks. Although Jefferson still highly regards traditional notions of honor and reputation, the narrator is critical of the old men in their Confederate uniforms who gather for Emily’s funeral. For them as for her, time is relative. The past is not a faint glimmer but an ever-present, idealized realm. Emily’s macabre bridal chamber is an extreme attempt to stop time and prevent change, although doing so comes at the expense of human life.

The Power of Death

Death hangs over “A Rose for Emily,” from the narrator’s mention of Emily’s death at the beginning of the story through the description of Emily’s death-haunted life to the foundering of tradition in the face of modern changes. In every case, death prevails over every attempt to master it. Emily, a fixture in the community, gives in to death slowly. The narrator compares her to a drowned woman, a bloated and pale figure left too long in the water. In the same description, he refers to her small, spare skeleton—she is practically dead on her feet. Emily stands as an emblem of the Old South, a grand lady whose respectability and charm rapidly decline through the years, much like the outdated sensibilities the Griersons represent. The death of the old social order will prevail, despite many townspeople’s attempts to stay true to the old ways.

Emily attempts to exert power over death by denying the fact of death itself. Her bizarre relationship to the dead bodies of the men she has loved—her necrophilia—is revealed first when her father dies. Unable to admit that he has died, Emily clings to the controlling paternal figure whose denial and control became the only—yet extreme—form of love she knew. She gives up his body only reluctantly. When Homer dies, Emily refuses to acknowledge it once again—although this time, she herself was responsible for bringing about the death. In killing Homer, she was able to keep him near her. However, Homer’s lifelessness rendered him permanently distant. Emily and Homer’s grotesque marriage reveals Emily’s disturbing attempt to fuse life and death. However, death ultimately triumphs.

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