Faulkner’s “Rose for Emily” Literary Analysis

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“Rose for Emily” is one of Faulkner’s most famous and uncharacteristic stories. It is set in the Southern town of Jefferson in the decades following the Civil War. Emily Grierson’s house, in its “stubborn and coquettish decay,” is the epitome of declining Southern aristocracy in the town (Faulkner). It is fitting since the story was written in 1930 when this decay was largely completed. The description of events unfolds along several temporal stages. Emily had to be born around 1864 – i.e., during the Civil War – her father dies and the romance with Barron happens during the Gilded Age, and she dies in the 1930s (Skinner 43). This transformation “from sought-after young woman to orphan to spinster” (Towner 76) parallels the historical decline of Southern gentry.

Emily, the main character, is thoroughly static and unflinching. Her refusal to compromise on any point, be that her father’s burial, paying taxes, or letting Barron go, is her defining feature (Faulkner). Her internal conflict is being unable to part with the past while the world around changes. The story’s conflict is between Emily, unwilling to compromise her aristocratic notions of relationships, and “Barron and his earthiness” (O’Brien 104). This tension between the defeated aristocratic South and the victorious industrial North is also the story’s central theme, mainly told through the characters’ romantic involvement. The climax happens at the very end, as the spectators entering Emily House find her hairs near Barron’s decomposed body (Faulkner). The unspecified narrator is presumable the town’s native, who, by virtue of his anonymity, is “both invisible and apparently objective,” adding to the suspense (Sullivan 175). Thus, Faulkner uses a carefully constructed setting and characters that epitomize the Old South and the New North to depict the tension between the two with an almost horror-like quality.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The University of Virginia. Web.

O’Brien, Timothy. “Who Arose for Emily?” The Faulkner Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2015, pp. 101-109.

Skinner, John L. “‘A Rose for Emily’: Against Interpretation.” The Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 15, no. 1, 1985, pp. 42-51.

Sullivan, Ruth. “The Narrator in ‘A Rose for Emily’.” The Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 1, no. 3, 1971, pp. 159-178.

Towner, Theresa M. The Cambridge Introduction to William Faulkner. Cambridge UP, 2008.