Miss Emily Grierson Through the Story of A Rose For Emily

Essay details

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” uses narrative in an innovative way. The story focuses on an eccentric woman who has disturbing secrets. Miss Emily, as she is known, was haughty in life because her family was once very prestigious in town; her father drove away suitors and she refused to accept his death. When she dies, however, the townspeople discover that she murdered her suitor and kept his corpse in her bedroom. One of the reasons the story has the impact that it does is that Faulkner uses narration and perspective to surprise the reader at the end. The use of the narrator who knows her but who is not close to her allows for the story to unfold in a way that keeps the surprise at the end a devastating blow that lets the reader finally put all the pieces together. Withholding Emily’s point of view is what gives the story the impact it has.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price

The beginning of the story establishes the narrator as an outsider to Miss Emily’s life, while also showing that everyone has been an outsider to Miss Emily for some time. “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her 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 man-servant–a combined gardener and cook–had seen in at least ten years” (Faulkner 658). This passage shows the narrator and also hints at the relationships between the townspeople and Emily. It shows that Emily was someone who nobody seemed to like very much. Even though the sentence hints at this being a small town, since the “whole town went to her funeral” (Faulkner 658), it seems that Emily is a mystery.

The narrator uses a nonlinear structure to tell Miss Emily’s story. First, he outlines the problems Miss Emily had had with the town, particularly her unwillingness to pay taxes (Faulkner 658-659). Then, he focuses on Miss Emily’s other troubling qualities, which offers more detail about her emotions, such as her disturbing reaction to her father’s death. It is in this passage that the narrator introduces some of the more negative feelings the townspeople have about her. Miss Emily is not a beloved matriarch; she is not even a spinster that they tolerate. When Miss Emily loses her father, and then her fiancé in quick succession, the townspeople regard her with ambivalence, vacillating between schadenfreude and sincere pity. “People in our town… believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were” (Faulkner 660). Emily’s losses, the narrator surmises, might cause her to be more relatable since her father’s death has left her an impoverished spinster. “Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less” (Faulkner 661). Yet Miss Emily remains haughty. The death of her father does not provoke her into mourning the way most others do.

Just like a snobbish Grierson, it seems that she thinks death is not good enough for her family and that she cannot mourn the way other people do. She rejects reality, and the incident is dismissed as eccentricity at the time. However, the incident offers grim foreshadowing. In the context of the story’s linear narrative, it seems to add to the depiction of Miss Emily as an unlikable relic of the pre-Civil War era. The narrator tells the reader, “She told [the ladies of the town calling after her father’s death] that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down…” (Faulkner 661). The narrator describes feeling pity for Emily at that time, observing that her father had kept her from marrying by rejecting her suitors, and thus it would make sense for her to transfer her anger onto others. The narrator’s view in this passage suggests that Emily was grieving sincerely, if in a way that was far outside the bounds of society’s norms.

The secondhand nature of the event, which the narrator reports as a part of the town’s shared memory, contributes to the strategic use of details. By the time the narrator tells the story, the incident was little more than a local legend. The sincerity of Emily’s grief is not reported. There are no direct quotes, so it is hard to gauge exactly what happened. The simple phrase “…she broke down…” (Faulkner 661) seems vague, especially compared to the detail in the rest of the story. Therefore, the narrator seems to be withholding information that could either make Emily more sympathetic to the reader, or that could make the reader more suspicious of Emily and her inability to let go of the men in her life, or at least of their corpses.

The use of the narrator in this passage helps to build a deeper study of the character because of the way he reveals details and when he reveals them. The reader only knows what the narrator does, and so the incidents he relates contribute to a portrait of a complicated and unlikable individual. Few stories incorporate the sense of smell in their depictions, but the narrator repeatedly emphasizes smell. Initially, this seems like yet another unflattering detail, like Emily’s obesity or rudeness. Yet when the town is briefly scandalized by the odor that appears shortly after Homer disappears, the smell symbolizes more than disgust for Miss Emily. The smell was “…another link between the gross and teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons” (Faulkner 660), so in some ways, it is a positive development. Unlike the poverty that the narrator and his ilk had anticipated, the odor might be humanizing.

Although the story’s final revelation reframes this detail in a sinister way, the use of the narrator allows for the story to work on two layers. The first layer, in which the narrator reveals information strategically, portrays Miss Emily as a grotesque figure. The origin of her grotesque nature seems to be her family’s inability to conform to the postwar expectations of the small town, especially because the Griersons are no longer as wealthy and prestigious as her actions seem to indicate. Yet the second layer, in which the story is framed by Miss Emily’s funeral and the exploration of her house, shows that Miss Emily is not merely an eccentric. She could not let go of her father’s corpse, and she has apparently not let go of Homer’s, either.

The final part of the story details the second time the townspeople have to enter the Grierson home and encounter something disturbing. In contrast to the secondhand report from the time Miss Emily’s father died, the narrator speaks directly of his own experience, even though he uses phrases that seem oddly detached. For example, he writes in the first-person plural. The effect distances any one individual from the action and enforces the idea of a town sharing its views of someone. “For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin” (Faulkner 664). The strong emotions of horror and disgust in the final passage of the story gain power through this strategy because the effect is to reinforce how everyone in the room felt exactly the same way when they contemplate the corpse.

When contemplating the scene in the closed-off bedroom, the narrator uses language that connects the dead man with sex. “The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him” (Faulkner 664). Details that suggest the intimacy of the way the man died like his abandoned socks and shoes, as well as the idea that he has been “cuckolded” by death, move towards the story’s final and most disturbing suggestion: That Miss Emily was not just emotionally attached to the corpse, but that there was a sexual aspect to her keeping the corpse, as the final line suggests. “One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner 664). The implication is that at least for some time, Miss Emily had been spending time in the bed next to the dead and decaying Homer.

This horrifying fact answers questions about purchase of the arsenic, while also raising more questions about her fear of removing her father’s body from the house. While this approach packs a narrative and emotional punch, it also eliminates Miss Emily’s voice. While there is little that could ever have explained or excused her actions, if the narrative had turned her into a fully fleshed-out character rather than a mere skeleton, as it were, then “A Rose for Emily” might have had even more psychological complexity. The narrator’s distance, however, allows for the reader to be surprised and for the story to offer another layer of conflict, that of the townspeople compared to Emily, as well. Regardless, the choices Faulkner made about the narrator increase the story’s power, mystery, and emotional impact.

Works Cited

  1. Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 13th Edition,
  2. edited by Kelly J. Mays, W.W. Norton & Co., 2019, pp. 658- 664

Get quality help now


Verified writer

Proficient in: Books, Feature of Character, Writers

4.8 (345 reviews)
“Writer-Justin was a very nice and great writer. He asked questioned as necessary to perform the job at the highest level. ”

+75 relevant experts are online

More Essay Samples on Topic

banner clock
Clock is ticking and inspiration doesn't come?
We`ll do boring work for you. No plagiarism guarantee. Deadline from 3 hours.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume you agree with our Cookies policy.