A Response to William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
William Faulkner wrote his story, “A Rose for Emily,” to be read on two different levels. On one level, Faulkner’s story is a chillingly good read about a woman’s descent into madness. On a second, deeper level, this story is a symbolic one about times gone by and the town’s abandonment of its past for modernity.
I found this story to be a difficult one to read the first time through it. Its language was dense and, at times, I grew confused over the passage of time. However, I felt that the manner in which it was written was important to the story itself. Its slow pacing reflected the perception of the slow pace of Southern life. In addition, this matter-of-fact tone and pace also intensified the shock that the reader feels when Homer Barron’s body is discovered at then end. Finally, the pace, reflective of traditional story-telling, is suited to the seeming timelessness of Miss Emily herself, who “had been a tradition” in Jefferson (239).
It is easy to question whether Miss Emily was insane, or whether she was “merely” without a conscience and bent on getting what she wanted. For example, despite being aware of her owing taxes to the city, having “received a paper,” Miss Emily denies that she owes any tax money. She understands what is happening, but she puts herself above the law. This repeated event, in addition to the suspicious nature of Homer’s death and the implication of her father’s similar fate to Homer’s gives credence to the assumption that Emily suffered from something other than a simple loss of connection with reality.
Regardless of how the reader thinks of Miss Emily, however, this story is a powerful one. Faulkner has an ability to bury details in his story that both suggest its ending and lead the reader away from drawing this conclusion too early. This ability alone makes this story worth reading several times, just to see what might have been missed the first, or even the second, time around.
Questions for others:
1. Did the smell emanating from the house reveal the ending of the story to you?
2. On page 241, Faulkner states that Miss Emily “had become humanized.” Later, however, he states that she “passed from generation to generation.” Did the townspeople ever think of Miss Emily as a real person? Would it have made a difference if they had?
3. Why would the townspeople think that Miss Emily would kill herself, rather than thinking that she meant to kill Homer Barron?
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Worlds of Fiction, Roberta Rubinstein and Charles R. Larson (Eds.). New York: Prentice Hall, 2002. 239-244.