"A Rose for Emily" Literary Analysis

William Faulkner "A Rose for Emily"

Dec 20, 2019 at Free Literature Essays Online as Urgent Writing Help

The Story Analysis "A Rose for Emily" 

Found in the majority of textbooks and, probably, the most popular Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily” is included in almost all the collections of the classical short fiction stories. It is so popular probably because it is the first short story published in a national magazine, or because there appears the main, repeatedly recurring theme of Faulkner — resistance to change. Like many small things of Faulkner, it is another piece of the puzzle, where the action takes place in the fictional town of Jefferson. Special symbolism of the story is associated with that period of the history when there is an action of the story – the first decades after the Civil War between the North and South and the abolition of slavery. It is not accidentally that Emily, whose family had recently held plantations and slaves, falls in love with a hard worker, who apparently represents the mills and factories of the North. This love story presents a small but important piece of American history, highlighting the importance of time and reflecting the social and historical context of contemporary society.

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The aim of the story, as it was mentioned before, is to show that the changes in life are inevitable. The time is passing, and things cannot stay the same. The plot of “A Rose for Emily”, in particular, the period it is written about, directly presents and explains the aim of the author. Here, one can find the inability and reluctance to accept the change in terms of keeping to old traditions of the South despite the North is “modern”. The very name of the story tells about the historical perspective. A rose is a metaphoric symbol of respect and memory about something passed and beautiful. Here, respect and honor is about the Old South with its traditions, customs, and society. This is a requiem for the cut-off storyline highlighting the heyday of the American South. There is a common term – the shard era, which directly points out the character and her attempts to save an old lifestyle. Emily was unhappy as a reminder of the losers and their way of life, and she pushes for the same reason – for her, everything remains the same. Nevertheless, an attempt to keep the lifestyle and combine it with a “brand new” lover failed. That is logical especially understanding that change is inevitable.


The story is ambiguous from any viewpoint. Faulkner created a controversial image of the main character Emily as an idol, a monument to the beautiful past, and an indestructible pillar of the days gone by: “… Miss Emily has been a tradition, a duty, and care, a sort of hereditary obligation upon a town …” (Faulkner 1). Here, Faulkner directly points out that Emily is the idol of the past. In addition, even Emily’s appearance reflects the past fashion: “… woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt … Her eyes … looked like two small pieces of coal…” (Faulkner 3). When reading these sentences, one can feel haughtiness, which Emily directed to people. It should be noted that arrogance was one of the most characteristic features of the Old South aristocracy, which Emily represents. Even her appearance and manners denied the changes.


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What is more, the story is referred to from the viewpoint of the certain “we”. Perhaps, it is the society of the Old South that is speaking to the modern people or the inhabitants of the town – this question is left unanswered. Perhaps, from a social perspective, both answers are right since the inhabitants of the town represent the society of the Old South. However, it is obvious that people in this town are watching the main character. They were revered and afraid of Emily as a ghost of the past. They cannot deal with her. She is so high above them, and they were always somewhere at her soles. Moreover, they were jealous, felt sorry for her, wanted to call her “poor Emily,” and sat down on her level. These people were not able to win any fight with Emily as she always won them. “… So, she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers …” (Faulkner 3). Such involvement of the society into one’s life reflects the social condition of that time. In the Old South times and straight after the War, when the traditions were not changed yet, people did everything in relation to “what people say”. Society’s involvement and image of a certain person or the whole family valued almost everything at those times. Thus, in terms of a social perspective, the townspeople invaded Emily’s life, because they did not know another lifestyle, and it was a tradition. Here, one can see clear evidence for the aim of “A Rose for Emily” – inability and unwillingness to change. In addition, the mixed sequence of events helps a reader to understand the story better from a social perspective since it is like a memory flashes of the narrator (the society of the town in this case). It is right since a person does not remember all things as a sequence but as separate flashes.

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Literature Review

“A Rose for Emily” was examined by a wide variety of researchers and scientists. They studied and analyzed the story from various viewpoints, including the historical one. When talking about the story in a historical context, the authors pay attention to the man-time relation. For example, Vartany talks about the mathematical progression of time in the story. The author claims that the time and tradition in the story are like a mathematical progression, “it conserves everything” (191). Thus, the author theoretically highlights that Emily, as a representative of the old generation, believed that the past never goes anywhere and today is a new version of yesterday with something new added. Her addiction to old traditions (and addiction to South as a whole) is explained by the faith that future is a combination of old and present, and it should never be forgotten, but, what is more, even widened “like Emily’s body, or like Freud’s unconscious” (Vartany 191). It is obvious that despite Emily was the representation of an old tradition and old society, she began to change since she started living with a lover without even engaging him, which is “against the rules”. However, the old perception wins, which highlights the unwillingness to change.

Mysterious Emily is buried at the very beginning of the story. In addition, the story itself is told as if the residents of the entire city were narrators. Emily’s life is a kind of relic, fossil, which the city values. From the beginning, she is a prisoner of the role forced upon her father first, and then the rest of the townspeople. While the whole country is moving forward, Emily is forced to maintain the reputation and live like some fossil in his family home. Qing (35) highlights this viewpoint. His research is a clear proof of society's invasion into personal life, which is typical for that time. The point is that in the majority of analyses of this story, the bearer of the Old South traditions is Emily. The author points out the biographical constituent of Emily as the main part of the story. The author claims that the biography of Emily is the biography of the South and its society from the most truthful and critical viewpoint (Qing 36). In addition, the author states that the involvement of the society into Emily’s biography indicates the fact that time is passing and things change, but not in Jefferson.

Chang and Jiao’e analyze the story from a historical perspective and historical consciousness of the Southern people of that time. He claims that not the main character tries to preserve his life and lover, but the inhabitants of the town were trying to preserve Emily. The people pushed her to the old framework since they were not ready and did not want to change their perspective on life. In addition, the reader sees that Emily firstly wanted to get rid of it all, i.e. an old perspective. After the death of her father, she cut her hair and thus looked much younger. She dated her lover for a year as long as citizens were not outraged with the fact that they were not engaged. “… her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl …” (Faulkner 4). What is more, the citizens called for her cousins, whom she immediately brainwashed and forced to recall the imaginary honor. The last scene where the townspeople open the room and see the pink canopies and lampshades covered with dust as if symbolizing her pink dream on which everybody mocked. According to Chang and Jiao’e, this is also the representation of the historical context (009).

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Finally, one of the most important viewpoints is the critical evaluation of the “conservation” outside and inside Emily. The flow of time here is especially noticeable since Emily is an idol of the past; however, at the same time, she understands that time is passing and things cannot stay the same. She is the nearest to a small but proud town celebrity, and, thus, all the main features of the local celebrity are combined in Emily (Getty 231). Including the patriarchal conservatism deeply involved in malleable, drowsy climate, “the spirit of the place” and shallow cast away revanchist sentiments of broken slaveholders. The author also claims that Faulkner in his story creates a feeling that the people living in the town are small fishes in an aquarium into which someone from the outside periodically pours water (Getty 233). Emily, similarly to all inhabitants of her town, is a symbol of conservatism and the desire to leave everything as it was before.


Faulkner creates a certain atmosphere in his story so that there is no precipitating feeling left for a long time after reading that enhances the re-thinking of the story. Having lost his father, Emily waited for the love and care of another man. Finding ghostly happiness, she wanted to keep it in such a brutal manner. It should be noticed that the author’s evaluation of her actions is given nowhere; only the atmosphere of the dusty pink room and general mustiness of Emily is presented. Her whole life is like a symbol of the passing epoch. This is felt very strongly at the very beginning, in the description of the mansion itself and the area in which Emily Grierson lived. After her father’s death, the whole city was trying to change her back to life or blame for “immorality”, but they felt she is paying homage to “the fallen idol,” i.e. an old tradition.

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