A Rose For Emily Summary, Synopsis, Themes & Characters

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About the Story– A Rose For Emily

TitleA Rose for Emily
AuthorWilliam Faulkner
GenreSouthern Gothic, Short Story
Publication Year1930
SettingJefferson, a fictional town in the southern United States
Narrative StyleFirst-person plural narration, non-linear storytelling
ThemesIsolation, Decay, Tradition, Change, Death

A Rose For Emily Characters

  • Emily Grierson – The reclusive protagonist and titular character.
  • Homer Barron – Emily’s love interest.
  • Colonel Sartoris – Former mayor who excuses Emily from paying taxes.
  • Judge Stevens – Respected town figure.
  • Tobe – Emily’s servant.

A Rose For Emily Themes

1. Isolation and Loneliness – The theme of isolation permeates “A Rose For Emily” as the protagonist, Emily Grierson, becomes increasingly isolated from society, leading to her tragic fate.

2. Tradition and Change – Faulkner explores the tension between tradition and change in the story. Emily’s struggle to adapt to a changing world and her refusal to let go of the past highlight the destructive power of clinging to outdated traditions.

3. The Decay of the Old South – The story portrays the decline of the once-prosperous South and the fading glory of the Grierson family. Faulkner captures the fading grandeur and decaying legacy of the aristocratic Southern families in the aftermath of the Civil War.

4. Gender Roles and Social Expectations – Faulkner addresses the restrictive gender roles and societal expectations imposed on women in the early 20th century. Emily’s struggle to conform to societal norms while asserting her independence reflects the oppressive nature of gender roles in her time.

5. Psychological Decay and Descent into Madness – The story delves into the psychological deterioration of Emily’s character, showcasing the impact of isolation, loss and a repressive upbringing on her mental state. Faulkner explores the theme of madness and its consequence

A Rose For Emily Synopsis

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a haunting tale set in the post-Civil War South.

The story revolves around the enigmatic figure of Miss Emily Grierson, a reclusive woman from a once-respected family.

As the narrative unfolds, it reveals the dark secrets hidden within the decaying walls of Emily’s home and her descent into madness.

Faulkner skillfully weaves together themes of tradition, isolation and the destructive power of the past.

Through intricate storytelling and a non-linear structure, “A Rose for Emily” explores the tragic consequences of clinging to the relics of the past in a changing society.

A Rose For Emily Summary

The plot divides into five parts. In section, I, the narrator recounts Emily Grierson’s death and how the entire community attended her burial in her home, which nobody had entered for over a decade. Emily’s house is the final relic of a bygone age in a once-elegant, elite neighbourhood. Colonel Sartoris, the town’s former mayor, had postponed Emily’s tax commitments to the city upon her father’s death, saying that Mr Grierson had previously lent the village a large sum.

As new municipal officials take over, they futilely attempt to persuade Emily to begin payments. When individuals from the Board of Aldermen pay her a visit in the dusty and archaic parlour, Emily says that she is not compelled to pay taxes in Jefferson and suggests that the authorities should discuss the problem with Colonel Sartoris. However, he had been deceased for about a decade at that point. She requests that her servant, Tobe, show the guys out.

In part II, the narrator relates a thirty-year-ago incident in which Emily rejects another official investigation on behalf of the town officials when the townsfolk notice a pungent stench originating from her property. Her father has recently died & the man has abandoned Emily; the townspeople expect her to marry. As the number of complaints grows, the mayor at the time, Judge Stevens, decides to spray lime along the foundation of the Grierson residence in the middle of the night. 

The stink fades after a few weeks, but the locals begin to feel sorry for Emily, recalling how her great aunt died of insanity. The Griersons were always seen to be excessively self-assured by the villagers, with Emily’s father chasing away the many suitors judged unfit to marry his daughter. Emily is still unmarried at thirty, despite having no marriage proposals.

The women of the community approach Emily the day following Mr Grierson’s death to express their condolences. Emily greets them at the door and claims her father isn’t dead, a ruse she maintains for three days. She eventually prepares her father’s remains for burial.

In part III, the narrator discusses Emily’s protracted sickness due to this episode. The municipality hires workers to pave the walkways the summer after her father’s death & a construction company led by northerner Homer Barron is granted the job. Homer quickly becomes a famous person in town and is spotted accompanying Emily on Sunday afternoon buggy rides, which scandalizes the community and intensifies their contempt and sorrow for Emily. They believe she is losing sight of her family’s dignity and is becoming connected with a man beneath her rank.

Emily goes to the drug shop to get arsenic, a potent poison, as the affair continues and her reputation suffers. The law compels her to disclose how she intends to utilize the arsenic. She does not explain, and the delivery arrives labelled “For rats.”

The narrator discusses in Section IV the townspeople’s dread that Emily may use the poison to kill herself. Despite their continuous Sunday routine, her marriage to Homer seemed more implausible. The town’s most furious ladies demand that the Baptist preacher meets with Emily. He never talks about what happened after his stay and swears he’ll never return. So the minister’s wife writes to Emily’s two cousins in Alabama, who are visiting for the first time. Emily reuses the couple’s marriage by ordering a silver toilet set monogrammed with Homer’s initials. Homer is said to be out of town, perhaps preparing for Emily’s departure to the north or avoiding Emily’s prying family.

One evening, after the cousins have left, Homer goes to the Grierson residence and disappears without a trace. Emily becomes chubby and grey when cooped up in the house. Despite the infrequent class in China painting she provides, her door remains locked to strangers. Emily refuses to recognize the tax bill, as it has been an annual tradition. She finally closes down the house’s upper level. Except for a brief glimpse of her through the window, absolutely nothing is heard from her until her death at the age of seventy-four. The only person observed entering and exiting the residence is the servant.

The narrator tells what happened after Emily dies in Section V. They put Emily’s body out in the parlour, and the women, town elders, and two cousins attend the funeral. After a considerable time, the townsfolk break down the door of a locked upper room that had remained unopened for the past forty years. The chamber seems frozen, with bridal attire and a man’s suit on display. They also discover Homer Barron’s body spread out on the bed, in an advanced state of decomposition. Onlookers then see a head depression in the pillow next to Homer’s body and a long strand of Emily’s grey hair on the pillow.

A Rose For Emily FAQs

What was the story A Rose for Emily about?

“A Rose for Emily” is a short story by William Faulkner about a reclusive woman named Emily Grierson and the dark secrets hidden within her decaying Southern mansion.

What is the deeper meaning of A Rose for Emily?

The deeper meaning of “A Rose for Emily” explores themes of isolation, decay, the loss of tradition and the destructive nature of obsessive love.

What mental illness did Emily have in story?

Emily Grierson exhibits symptoms of various mental illnesses, including psychosis and possible borderline personality disorder.

Why does Emily sleep with Homer’s body?

Emily sleeps with Homer’s body due to her inability to let go of him and her desire for control over her relationships.

What was the smell in A Rose for Emily?

The smell was described as a pungent, foul odor emanating from Emily Grierson’s house, believed to be the stench of her deceased lover’s decomposing body.

What is the irony in the story A Rose for Emily?

The irony in “A Rose for Emily” is that the town sympathizes with Emily’s isolation, but they ultimately condemn her for her actions.

What is the moral conflict in A Rose for Emily?

The moral conflict in “A Rose for Emily” revolves around the tension between societal expectations and personal autonomy, as Emily defies norms and crosses ethical boundaries.

What is the surprise at the end of A Rose for Emily?

The surprise at the end of “A Rose for Emily” is the discovery of the decaying corpse of Emily’s long-dead lover, Homer Barron, in her bedroom.

About the Author– William Faulkner

a rose for emily summary

Full NameWilliam Cuthbert Falkner
Pen NameWilliam Faulkner
BornSeptember 25, 1897
DiedJuly 6, 1962
OccupationNovelist, Short Story Writer, Poet, Screenwriter
GenreSouthern Gothic, Modernist, Stream of Consciousness
Notable Works-The Sound and the Fury
-As I Lay Dying
-Light in August
-Absalom, Absalom!
Literary MovementLost Generation, Modernism, Southern Renaissance
AwardsNobel Prize in Literature (1949)
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1955, 1963)
National Book Award (1951)
InfluencesJames Joyce, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad

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