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A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner

About the author

William Faulkner life

William Faulkner(1897-1962)was born in New

Albany,Mississippi. He attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford before and after his service in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World I. His literary career began in New Orleans where he met Sherwood Anderson, who helped him get his first novel Soldiers Pay published in 1926. The work which won Faulkner a Nobel Prize in 1950 is often a depiction of life in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, an imaginative reconstruction of the area adjacent to Oxford.

A Picture of Yoknapatawpha County( a little postage stamp of native soil)

His Main Writings

His major novels : The Sound and the Fury(1929) As I Lay Dying(1930) Sanctuary(1931) Light in August(1932) Absalom , Absalom !(1936) The Hamlet(1940) His books of short stories: These Thirteen (1931) Go down, Moses(1942) The Collected Stories of William


Faulkner: A country folk writer

Oxford ;

William Faulkner American Writer 1897-1962

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949

"for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel"

About the text

A Rose for Emily is one of Faulkners most widely read in the American classroom. Chinese students may find it difficult to understand and appreciate. Some of them may think it is a bizarre story about an old eccentric lady in an American Southern town. It is true that the setting of the story is the American South. Yet, the theme of the story is universal, transcending the boundaries of time and space. Like many other works of great literature, this short story tells about love, death, honor, pride, change, and loss.

The story is set in the southern town of Jefferson in Yoknapatawpha Country which is also the setting for a dozen of his novels. Emily Grierson, the protagonist, has been twisted in personality by forces beyond her control. Dominated by her aristocratic father, she has been prevented from marrying and after his death she is left alone and penniless. She kills her lover Homer Barron in order to keep him with her. She does not accept change of the time and alienates herself from the community. She is insane and her actions grotesque, but she is a victim, a tragic woman who invites sympathy. One of the themes of this story is the relation of the individual and his actions to the past, present and future. Apart from the exploration of psychological reality, the displaced chronology in narration is also characteristic of Faulkners style.

The Meaning of the Title

The meaning of the title is ambiguous, capable of various interpretations. A rose is a clich, symbolizing love and a pledge of faithfulness. From the story we can see Miss Emily was denied love. So, in this sense, the title has an ironic meaning. A rose for somebody can also mean a kind of memorial, an offering, in memory of somebody. Then, who offered a rose for Emily?

Writing style
Flashback and foreshadowing are two often used literary devices that utilize time in order to produce a desired effect. Flashbacks are used to present action that occurs before the beginning of a story; foreshadowing creates expectation for action that has not yet happened. Faulkner uses both devices in A Rose for Emily.

Detailed Study of the Text

Part I


The street used to house only the best families. Then great changes took place: garages and cotton gins were established on the street and their existence wiped out the aristocratic traces in that neighborhood. While the whole street was becoming modern and commercial, only Miss Emilys house remained the same. Although her house was decaying, it still assumed an air of a stubborn and frivolous girl. The cotton wagons and gasoline pumps were ugly enough, but this house, which was old, in decay, pretentious, and completely out of place, was more unpleasant to look at. This detail shows that the house and its owner share the same character. Miss Emily had lived long and had become a tradition because she represented the aristocracy of the Old South that had lost out in the Civil War. She was a care because she was old, unmarried, and without family, and the people in the town felt they must take care of her. They felt that taking care of her was their duty and obligation. This obligation passed from generation to generation as long as she lived.

3. Miss Emily would not have accepted charity. Not that is used to say what follows is not true. Charity would be humiliating to Miss Emily. When her father died, Miss Emily was quite poor, but being a proud woman from an august family, she would not accept charity. Colonel Sartoris, born into another aristocratic family in Jefferson, had elaborate ideas about how white upper class women should be treated. With the decline of the South after the war, these rich white families also declined. He knew that the wives and daughters of the declining plantation owners enjoyed very high but also outdated status. They should be looked up to, respected and taken care of. He knew exactly what Miss Emily needed and how she felt now, and thus invented a tale to justify the edict so that he could give her some financial aid without appearing charitable. 4. fat, obese, plump, overweight, large, heavy, chubby, stout, tubby If you want to be polite, dont say that people are fat. Overweight or just large, in American English heavy, would be more polite. Plump is most often used of women and children and means slightly or pleasantly fat. Chubby is most often used of babies and children and also means pleasantly fat and healthy looking. Stout means slightly fat and tubby means short and fat. If someone is extremely fat and unhealthy, he/she is obese. Obese is also the word used by doctors.

Part II
1. The ladies didnt believe that a man, any man, could keep a kitchen properly. When the terrible smell developed, they thought it was because the manservant didnt keep the kitchen clean. The Griersons regarded themselves as very important and the outside world as vulgar full of people inferior to them. They belonged to tow entirely different worlds. After her father died, Miss Emily shut herself up in the house, retreating to her world of the past. However, the complaints about the smell served as a link between the two different worlds and compelled her to deal with the other world. The next day the mayor received two more complaints. One of them was from a man who came and pleaded to the mayor in a shy and timid way.



4.Miss Emily sat in the window with the light behind her. What people Could see was her silhouette, a dark figure seen against a light Background. In this image She didnt look like a living person but an idol, or a Goddess. Such a image suited her rigid and stubborn personality, her arrogant character.

4. People in the town felt that the Grierson family regarded themselves more important than they really deserved to be. The fact that Miss Emilys greataunt. Old lady Wyatt, had gone crazy had to do with this blind, excessive self-importance. 5. This sentence depicts a central image that tells several things about the relationship between father and daughter in Grierson family. First, the positions of the father and daughter are meaningful. The father was standing in the foreground while Miss Emily was standing in the background. This shows the fathers dominant position and the daughters subordinate role. The fathers spraddling adds to his image as a stern patriarchal figure. Second, the father turned his back to her, showing that he refused to listen to her, denying her wishes. Then Mr. Grierson was clutching a horsewhip, which was clearly a symbol of power, authority, and strict control. Miss Emilys slender figure suggests vulnerability, and her white dress symbolizes purity, the most valued quality of the Southern white women. The fact that the two of them were framed by the back-flung front door may be interpreted in different ways. One interpretation is that the father was blocking the door, suggesting Miss Emily was unable to walk out of the house and choosing her suitor freely. Another interpretation is that the door was open for suitors but the suitors were driven away by the father holding a horsewhip.

6. When she got to be thirty and was still single, people in the town were not happy about such a outcome, but it did confirm their predictionsMiss Emily was still single because the Griersons held themselves too high for what they really were, and all the young men who had come to court Miss Emily had been driven away by the father. They knew that even though there was insanity in the family, Miss Emily wouldnt have turned down all of her chances if they had really existed.

7. Without her fathers over-protection and without much money, she had become a common person like the other townspeople. Ordinary people often become excited or worried when they get a penny more or a penny less. Being poor, now Miss Emily would learn to appreciate the value of money like other people in the town.

1. It is obvious that there is something else beneath the change of

Part III

appearances. What is it? It is quite ambiguous. The images in this passage may be interpreted as a woman stripped of her sexuality. In this portrait, Emily assumes the semblance of a girl instead of a sexually mature woman of thirty. Her cut hair is especially important. Since ancient times, a womans hair has symbolized her sexuality. Emilys hair, along with her sexuality, has been cut short through her fathers pride. The cut hair also introduces religious imagery, for an initiate into nunnery shears her hair as a symbol of her chastity. In addition, the adjectives tragic and serene envisage a Madonna, a holy virgin, as an addendum to the primary image of angels who, although often depicted as women, are asexual. The images can also indicate that with her hair cut short, Emily was now a liberated woman. She was determined to change her role as an upper-class genteel woman. A short hair usually makes a woman look stronger and more independent in character. This quality of hers can be seen in her courting with Homer Barron, a Yankee foreman, despite traditional social prejudice. 2. Yankee: Homer Barron was one of those from the victorious North who, after the Civil War, came to South in the hope of making money. They were often called carpetbaggers, and were objects of scorn or suspicion for most Southerners.

3. But there were still others, older people, who said that no matter how sad Miss Emily was over her fathers death, she should not forget she had certain obligations as a member of the nobility, though a real lady would not describe her self-restraint by the expression noblesse oblige. The implied meaning is that it should be unthinkable for Emily as part of the local nobility to consider marrying a man so far beneath her.

Part IV
1. He would never disclose what happened during his talk with Miss Emily. We can infer that Miss Emily must have treated him with distain when he came to express the communitys disapproval of her public courting activities with Homer Barron. This is why he refused to have another talk with Miss Emily. 2. The townspeople were glad because they had been annoyed by the arrogant attitude of Miss Emily and now the two cousins were even more stubborn and self-important than Miss Emily. They believed that the two cousins would succeed in persuading Miss Emily and Homer Barron to get married quickly so that her public courting with Homer Barron would come to an end. 3. The people in the town guessed that their relationship had turned sour and so Homer Barron had left. And they expected to see a quarrel between them. When nothing of the kind happened, they were a little disappointed. Then they began to think that he perhaps had gone to prepare for the wedding. blowing-off: a loud quarrel that signals the end of something

4. By that time, the cousins had completed their mission and should leave Jefferson. Now the townspeople were taking the side of Miss Emily and made secret plans to help her deal with her cousins in a clear way. 5. Her father had driven away her suitors so many times, thus preventing her prom getting what she wanted as a woman. thwart: to prevent someone from doing what they are trying to do 6. What is the symbolic meaning of her vigorous iron-grey hair? It symbolizes her strong and stubborn personality. She refused to make any change to adapt her herself to the changing society. Even her hair ceased turning its color.

7. Now Miss Emily no longer went out. From time to time the townspeople would see her in one of the downstairs windows. She had evidently shut the top floor of the house. Sitting in the window, Miss Emily looked like the carved torso of an idol for worship placed in a niche. Whether she was looking at us or not we could not tell and it was not important because she had ceased to be a real human being, but had completely become a sort of monument, symbol of a tradition and hereditary obligation.


8. The author uses five adjectives to describe how the townspeople felt about Miss Emily. These words reflect the townspeoples ambivalent attitude toward Miss Emily. She was dear because she represented the Southern heritage to a certain extent. She was inescapable because she was a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town. She was impervious and not affected by any changes taking place in the town, and her imperviousness was well reflected by her ignoring the tax notice and her refusal to pay taxes. She was tranquil. Though she was tragic, she remained calm and free from disturbance. Her tranquility as well as her rigidity was portrayed by her motionless silhouette in the window. She was certainly perverse, always behaving in an unreasonable way and regularly doing the opposite of what people expected her to do.

Part V
1. The very old men, who were even older than Miss Emily, came to the funeral. Some of them were veterans of the Civil War, and they had put on their old Confederate uniforms to pay their last respect this Southern lady from an aristocratic family. Standing on the porch and the lawn, they talked of Miss Emily, mistakenly thinking of her as someone of their age, born around 1840 or so whereas she (born around 1855) was much younger than they were. They imagined they had danced with her and courted her perhaps. As the old people often do, they confused the dates and years of past happenings. To the old people, all the past should be like a road that becomes smaller as it reaches further back. But to those old southerners, the recent past of ten years or so was like a bottleneck, a narrow passage, or a tunnel. Beyond that narrow passage, the remote past became a huge level meadow where things were pleasantly and fondly mixed up together. Like the green grass on the meadow never touched by the winter, their memories of the remote past remained blurred, sweet, romanticized, and unchanged. a. mathematical progression: sequence or succession of happenings in time marked by numbers b. bottleneck: any place, as a narrow road, where traffic is slowed up or halted; any point at which movement or progress is slowed up.

2. Just before his death, the man was lying in a position of an embrace. But death that always lasts longer than love and conquers even the pain and suffering of love had turned him into a man whose wife proved unfaithful.

Why did Miss Emily kill Homer Barron?

a. Barron had deserted her. b. Barron refused to marry her. c. She feared that Barron would not remain

faithful to her after their marriage. d. She was insane. e. He wanted to blackmail her. f. He wanted to take her to the North.

What kind of a woman is Miss Emily? How is she portrayed in the story?
Born into an aristocratic family of the South, Miss Emily was proud, self-important and obstinate like other Griersons. As a lady from such a family, she enjoyed a high but obsolete social status. On the one hand she was placed on a pedestal for people to admire as if she were perfect. She was closely watched by the community and was always expected to bring honor to the town and set a good example for the young. She was viewed as a representative of the Southern tradition, an idol in the niche. Nominated by her father, she was deprived of all opportunities for a happy marriage and thus for a normal womans life. After she began to court with Homer Barron, a Northern laborer, she was accused of being a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people. The patriarchal and social pressure warped her character. She tried hard to cling to the past, which meant privilege and glory to her. She cut herself off from the changing world and lived in complete self-isolation. Over the years, she was transformed from a subordinate young lady controlled by her domineering father to a middle-aged woman courting a laborer against the accusation of the community and then to a murderer who not only killed her love but also kept the corpse in her house and even sometimes lay down beside the remains of the dead body.

How did the townspeople think of her

For such a woman, the townspeople had mixed feelings----she was dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse. For better or worse, she is the embodiment of the social conditions at that time. Through telling this story and exploring the character of Miss Emily, Faulkner reveals his ambivalent relationship to the South, of which he felt proud and ashamed at the same time.

The meaning of the story

The plot of the story evolves around many conflicts: the conflicts between Mr. Grierson and his daughter, the conflict between Miss Emily and Homer Barron, the conflict between Miss Emily and the community, the conflict between the South and the North, the conflict between Miss Emily and the established codes of conduct, and the conflict between the past and the present. The readers different focus on these conflicts may lead to different interpretations. On the whole, it tells what it is like to live in the American South between the 1860s and the 1930s when the South had to digest the loss of the war and cope with its legacy in a changing society.

1. How old was Emily when her father died? 2. At what age did Emily teach Chinese

painting? 3. Why did Emily refuse to pay the tax? 4. Why does the narrator use the pronoun we? 5. What does this story tell you about the culture and mores of the American South during that period? How does it compare with your own conception of small town life?

Which of the photos below best represents the image of Emily Grierson's house before it became "an eyesore among eyesores"?