“None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.” (Faulkner, 324) This is a gothic tale of an upper-class young lady by the name of Miss Emily Grierson. “A Rose For Emily,” is a short fiction by, William Faulkner. This story was published in 1932, but was set in the 1870s. The setting is in the old south, which in many ways, represented many of the ideals Miss Emily stood for. This enticing tale unfolds as a mystery, which unravels as the story goes back in time. We start at the death of Miss Emily, and see her life through the memories of the narrator. Unfortunately, we do not have the actual views or feelings of Miss Emily herself. The morbid tale falls under the category of “bad” love; Miss Emily’s actions seemed fueled but he fear of abandonment, loss of control, and perhaps even ignorance to what could have been done differently.
We are introduced at the beginning of the tale to Miss Emily, after her death. The opening sentence, gives us automatic insight into the general view of our main character. “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to the funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant-a combined gardener and cook- had seen in at least ten years.” (Faulkner, 323) Miss Emily was from an upper-class family, their home set what used to be the most pristine street of the town. The prestige had fallen through the years, as time goes by many things change, but not to Miss Emily. “See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.” (Faulkner, 324) This was the short declaration stated by Miss Emily as city officials had gone to try to collect taxes from her, from which she insisted she was exempt. Although, there seemed to be no public record of it, and Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years. They were then promptly escorted out by Tobe, the household manservant. The initial portion of the story has already painted a picture for us of Miss Emily’s personality.
“So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.” (Faulkner, 324) The next section of the story takes us even further back in time, introducing us to another peculiar event that happened with Miss Emily. Two years past the death of her father, and shortly after her “sweetheart” had disappeared. The narrator states, “had deserted her,” (Faulkner, 324) giving a sense of abandonment that Miss Emily had to endure. The section then goes on to explain that Miss Emily’s father had never felt that any suitor that presented was quite good enough for her. Exemplifying the controlling relationship that he had over his daughter, which can be taken to be either good or bad. He could have been protecting her, but it didn’t change the fact that she reached the age of thirty and was not yet married. Even in today’s world a woman reaches thirty and starts wondering what prospects she is left with in life. Naturally it was no surprise that when Mr. Grierson died; she had a hard time letting go. It was three days after her father passed, and with the threat of the use of the law, that Miss Emily had finally conceded to let them take the body away. “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.” (Faulkner, 325) It is understandable, even to the people in that time, that she did not know how to handle her life. Nothing is noted in the story about Miss Emily having a mother, or any female role model. Although she had aunts, there was unlikely anyone she was close to except her father.
The next section of the story opens telling us how Miss Emily was “sick for a long time,” (Faulkner, 325) but doesn’t detail in what manner. We do know, due to studies presented to us today, how easily depression can manifest into physical ailments. “When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows-sort of tragic and serene.” (Faulkner, 325) Finally out of her box and ready to embrace the world, her transition seemed facilitated by one Homer Barron. A foreman, who is introduced as a dashing “Yankee.” (Faulkner, 325) While at first the town was happy to finally see her out and about, their happiness soon turned into pity as they believe that this suitor was inappropriate for her upper-class standing. Initially, they didn’t think that Miss Emily would seriously consider the northerner, but then wondered whether it would be as the whispered, “Poor Emily.” (Faulkner, 325) Even though the town had been rumoring behind Miss Emily’s back, she demanded respect, and an example is given about how she bought arsenic at the store while her cousins were visiting from out of town. She had not even given an explanation as to why she needed the poison, she simply asked for arsenic, and had a stare down with the druggist until he conceded. As if she didn’t feel the need to explain herself, asserting herself in the famous “Grierson” manner. Even though the druggist explained that it was law that she informs him to why she needed the poison, he was disregarded. Miss Emily was not very close to these cousins, the narrator explains that her father had a falling out with the cousins, over the estate of a dead relative. It was their manner that had impressed the town most, the “Grierson” behavior, even Miss Emily herself hadn’t surpassed.
When Miss Emily had bought the poison, the town was fluttering with rumors to what she needed it for, seeing as she never answered the druggist. They initially thought that she would kill herself, and there were many reasons that the town thought that this was possible at this point. We have her extended family that was there, due to concerns about her being with Homer Barron, and the disgrace that the town felt it represented. Then the rumors about Homer’s character, “he was not a marrying man.” (Faulkner, 326) There was still contemplation on this scenario playing out though; seeing as she had bought clothes, fitted for a man, and items that had the inscription, H.B. on them. At this point, the town thought they were even married already, and even happy about it. However, after Homer Barron had been seen one night entering the Grierson household, he wasn’t seen again. There was no surprise at this point that no one saw Miss Emily again for some time. She didn’t open her house except for a short time to children for china painting lessons, and eventually as time passed the trend grew out. So Miss Emily had shut her doors, except for her manservant, no one went in and out of the house. She had secluded herself from the town, and the rest of society. Lonely and abandoned, however, left with the pride passed down through the generations. “She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight.” (Faulkner, 326) The description given about how she looked on her deathbed leaves us with a sad image of our main character.
There was much ado after her death, a town filled with curiosity about her house. The upstairs had been closed for a long time, and the town was seething to get a peek in the old Grierson home. They at least had some sort of respect, “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.” (Faulkner, 327) This was in reference to a specific room in the house, which when opened was like looking at a Kodak. A room stuck in time, the remnants still in their original places. There was a body in a nightgown, the initials on the items barely noticeable because the silver was so tarnished, and the suit that was laid on the chair nicely folded. “The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, had cuckolded him.” (Faulkner, 327) There next to him an indentation on the pillow, with a strand of hair, implied to be from the head of Miss Emily Grierson.
This gripping tale is a story of a “bad” love, fueled by the fear of Miss Emily. She was so scared that her love would abandon her that she took the choice away from him. She had killed him, which explains the stench the town had complained about many decades before. The general mood of the town towards her was one of mostly pity, but showed none of respect, even though the Grierson’s had demanded it. With her father being taken away, and her feeling abandoned, there is some understanding as to why she didn’t want to ever let go of the body. There is also the fact that she had killed him, which would have likely landed her in jail. Miss Emily, even though taught to be an upper-class member of society, had no idea how to handle life as it was handed to her. Though this was not her fault, the ending is slightly ironic. The town had pity for Miss Emily, thinking she was alone, and abandoned. However, Emily had fooled them because she had her sweetheart with her all along…
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. "A Rose For Emily." Literature: Craft and Voice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. 323-27. Print.