A Rose for Emily is a short story written by American author William Faulkner and published for the first time in an American magazine on the 30th of April 1930. The author depicts the story of a woman who has gone through a great tragedy and the writer pities her by handing her a rose. However, the rose in the title may be likened to the body of Homer which Emily keeps in good condition. The rose could also mean secrecy as roses are used to portray confidentiality in ancient Greek and later in Roman legends, where the phrase “sub rosa” meant something is kept secret.
The story begins with a short explanation of the funeral of Emily Grierson, an advance to a respected woman whom the townspeople respect and cherish and are obligated to help with her funeral. The narrator then gives a little recap of the weird and too old-fashioned Emily’s behavior during many years of her life after the death of her father. Emily is a member of the aristocratic southern family. At the end of the Civil War, the family has lost its position and faced many difficulties. Emily and her father who are the only remaining surviving members of her clan, find it difficult to live in the present and their thoughts remain in the glorious times of the past. Her father refuses to let her marry and leave him. Her father passes away when Emily has turned about 30 years old, which came as a surprise to her.
She refuses to hand over the corpse for burial and the town’s people are forced to see it as her own way of grieving the loss of her father. The town people always took pity on Emily, not just because of the death of her father, but because her father wouldn’t let her get married. The father did everything possible to drive away any suitor asking for Emily’s hand. When her father passes away, the only person who remains around the home apart from Emily is the butler who happens to be a black man. Even though Emily never had a close relationship with members of her community, she still gave art lesson occasionally to the children in her town. This made the town people to often refer to her as Miss Emily out of respect for her commitment to the children.
With time, Emily finally comes to terms with the death of her father and returns to the more or less normal life. Eventually. she changed her hairstyle and became friendly with a northern labourer referred to as Homer Barron. He has arrived to the town and joined the community shortly after the passing away of Emily’s father. Her affair with the northern labourer came as a surprise to most of the townspeople, because this was against the Southern traditions, while others are glad that she has taken interest in a man after a long time spent alone. To Emily’s dismay, Homer Barron tells her that he is not a man interested in marriage. Emily then visits the town druggist and buys arsenic from him telling him that she was going to use it to kill rats. But the townspeople strongly believe that she intends to actually use the poison to kill herself.
The town’s minister’s wife sends for Emily’s distant cousins to keep an eye on Emily and Homer Barron. However, Homer decides to leave town for a while to give Emily an opportunity to send her cousins away. He later returns after three days when her cousins have left town but he is never seen again after that. Even though Emily was now enjoying a turnaround in her social status, she still behaved conceitedly just like she was behaving before her father’s death. Her behavior poses a serious problem for her and members of her community. As she is a noble and respected woman, the city council finds it difficult to find out from her the cause of a strong and nasty smell that is coming from her house. It is considered not polite to accuse a noble woman, a lady, of something bad, and especially of an unhealthy smell. The city council instead sends men to her house at night to sprinkle lime around the house to eliminate the awful smell.
The mayor of the town Colonel Sartoris decides to overlook her taxes which he does as an act of charity. Although it was done as a form of repayment to her father to tone down Emily’s pride after the latter was deceased. Later, after a long time had passed, the next generation who was now in power had confronted her on taxes that she owed. She firmly maintained that she didn’t owe any taxes and the council refused to press forward and agreed to the erstwhile informal arrangement.
Emily was never seen outside the house and had shut herself from the world around, becoming a kind of a recluse. She rarely accepts visitors into the house. The community now sees her as a “hereditary obligation” whom the townspeople have to tolerate and not frown upon her behaviour, which is a little odd. Emily soon passes away and the funeral is the responsibility of the community who makes it a large affair. Due to the kind of reclusive life she lived prior to her death, her life had sparked a lot of curiosity amongst the town’s people who were interested in knowing what remained in her house. Her death was an opportunity to invade her house and find out what kept her indoors always while she was alive.
After her burial, a group of her town folks decides to enter her house to see what is in there. They notice that the door of the bedroom upstairs is locked and decide to kick it down to find out what was hidden there. Inside the room, they find some clothes – like the ones for a wedding - that Emily had bought for Homer, and to their surprise, they find lying on the bed the decomposing corpse of Homer Barron. On close examination, they find out that on the pillow next to his is the mark from a head and a single strand of grey hair, which showed that Emily had slept with the decomposing corpse of Homer before she passed away.
The theme of the book is centered around the bizarre happenings of the old west. It can be said that death is the main theme as it reflects the situation in the south in the 1930s as to Emily's. Emily was keen on hanging on to the remains of Homer Barron. It also highlights the sluggish mindset of the old south as they were initially against accepting Homer Barron who was a northerner.
Another strong theme of the book is that of resistance. Emily had been under the command of her father without her going against him for a major part of her life. Her father eventually passes away and she refuses to give up his corpse, this reflects her refusal to adapt to change. The story portrays Emily as a victim and this is the main reason why it is easy for readers to deal with the fact that she murdered Homer Barron Later in the story.
William Faulkner tells the story stages with a series of flashback and then extends the story over decades. He presents the reader with a puzzle centered around two visions of time.