A Rose for Emily takes place in the South. A man named Homer Barron is supposed to marry Emily Grierson, but he never shows up; this lets everyone know that he’s not going to marry her and that they’ll have to find someone else. A few days later, she disappears. For a while, no one knows where she has gone, but then her father dies. A long time after that, it’s discovered that she has been dead in her room for years. Eventually, the town finds out that Homer Barron was actually Emily’s first husband.
It turns out he had wanted to marry her so badly that he had faked his death so the town would stop talking about him marrying Emily Grierson. It also turns out that William Faulkner used this story to try and understand how some people have trouble letting go of their pasts. He wrote A Rose for Emily because he wanted to know why she was still holding onto Homer Barron despite everyone knowing there would be no marriage–everyone except Emily Grierson herself, who kept thinking he’d come back even though he never did.
In A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner lets the reader get to know Emily Grierson through her father and the townspeople’s eyes. The people in the town admire Mr. Grierson because of his status in the community, but they don’t respect him with regard to his relationship with his daughter. A lot of them thought that Emily was strange because she had lived at home with her father her whole life and didn’t have any job skills or close friends other than her servant, Tobe.
They also think Mr. Grierson spoiled her so much that she couldn’t live without him after he died–although it’s not entirely clear whether this is actually true or not–and it’s implied that they were a bit afraid of Emily as well. The town is very curious about Emily’s admirers, but they’re never able to find out who it is from talking to her servant, Tobe–and eventually neither is the reader. A Rose for Emily is left with a lot of unanswered questions at the end because Faulkner doesn’t tell the reader who Emily’s suitor was or whether she really meant to kill Homer Barron with rat poison when he came back one night and caught her in his room.
In A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner also lets the reader learn a lot about Mrs. Grierson through other people’s eyes. A lot of people see her as completely crazy of how obsessed she was with Homer Barron. A few people think she’s really smart, though–so in that sense, she is a complex character in A Rose for Emily because Faulkner gives readers both good and bad traits about Mrs. Grierson to think about. A lot of the time when she’s being talked about, it’s by townspeople who are still alive but older than they used to be when the novel was taking place.
A lot of times they don’t remember what happened so clearly anymore, which leaves A Rose for Emily with some unanswered questions too because Faulkner doesn’t tell us why Mr. Grierson spoils his daughter so much or whether he would have liked Homer Barron if he had married her instead of faking his death. William Faulkner wrote A Rose for Emily to come up with his own reasons as to why Emily Grierson didn’t give up on Homer Barron and instead would wait for him–even if he wasn’t coming back.
A Rose for Emily lets the reader learn a lot about how people thought about Mrs. Grierson and her father and all of their interactions through other characters’ perspectives, but it doesn’t give the reader any definite answers because William Faulkner wanted them to think about those things themselves without being told what to believe by A Rose for Emily. When A Rose for Emily was first published in 1930 as part of The American Mercury magazine, Faulkner had specialized in the literature that specialized in southern culture.
A Rose for Emily is different because it’s not restricted to the culture of the south, but it was still published in A Mercury issue because it focuses on characterizations instead of plot. A Rose for Emily also has a narrator that’s not one of its characters who is talking about what they think happened between Mrs. Grierson and Homer Barron–which makes A Rose for Emily even more open-ended than William Faulkner’s other stories published in A Mercury. A Rose for Emily kind of leaves the reader hanging because it doesn’t give any definite answers as to why Emily Grierson does things or if she’s justified in doing them.
It lets readers think about these things themselves so they can argue their own opinions, which means A Rose for Emily is really effective at eliciting discussion among readers. A Rose for Emily was published in A Mercury magazine that wasn’t based around the theme of southern culture, but William Faulkner still wrote A Rose for Emily with A Mercury because he wanted to make the story more open-ended about what happened instead of explaining everything through plot–which is why A Rose for Emily leaves a lot of unanswered questions at the end.
To learn about A Rose for Emily’s themes, I decided to read through some reviews on it too. A lot of A Rose for Emily’s critical interpretations say that its main theme deals with how tradition is flawed and that people should try new things even if they’re not considered “traditional” by their peers. People who think this says that societies’ traditions are usually for people who are wealthy, so A Rose for Emily has a critique of social classes in it too.
A lot of literary criticism says A Rose for Emily is supposed to be read as a tragedy because Homer Barron dies and Emily Grierson doesn’t end up with him–but A Rose for Emily isn’t always interpreted that way by every reader. Another strong theme I found from A Rose for Emily is how women are “caged” in their homes because they’re expected to be waiting at home all day for men to come back after work or school or whatever, which makes A Rose for Emily kind of feminist because it criticizes what society tells women they should do.
The majority of A Rose for Emily’s characters are older people who are set in their ways, so A Rose for Emily also has a theme of how people can’t escape what they’re used to no matter how hard they try–which makes A Rose for Emily’s ending kind of depressing when you think about it. The most interesting thing I found about A Rose for Emily when reading through reviews was that A Rose for Emily is associated with the Lost Generation because A Rose for Emily came out during A Mercury magazine’s run in the 1920s and 1930s when many writers were known as members of The Lost Generation.