A Rose for Emily Summary - Characters, Symbols, and Themes

A Rose for Emily Summary


A Rose for Emily Summary

A Rose for Emily is an interesting short story by William Faulkner that has left a lasting impression on readers globally. It is a horrifying tale set in the fictional town Jefferson, Mississippi, and tracks the life of Emily Grierson, a reclusive woman born into a prominent family, though unable to let go of her evil past. Faulkner’s storytelling capabilities and his masterful prose writing have garnered him multiple accolades, with the most prestigious one being the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is widely deemed as the greatest 20th-century American writer. A Rose for Emily is one of his admirable examples of literal prowess and professionalism.

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Overview of A Rose for Emily

The plot of A Rose for Emily focuses on the life of Emily. Emily is a reclusive woman from a Southern town and from a once-prominent family. The plot is narrated in a non-linear fashion, whereby Faulkner keeps shifting between the present and the past. Some crucial events that Faulkner mentions include:

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  • How Emily’s father used to control Emily excessively
  • Emily’s momentarily affair with the Northern businessman
  • Emily’s descent into isolation and madness

However, it is until the end of the book the full magnitude of the disturbing and tragic reality of Emily is brought to light. Some key themes in the story include tradition and progress, patriarchy, pleasure in misfortune, love, and death.

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A Rose for Emily Characters

Only a few major characters in A Rose for Emily exist. Apart from the protagonist, most of the characters are mentioned sparingly. Therefore, this section will look into some of the characters that have considerably impacted the plot. These characters include:

  1. Emily Grierson
  2. Homer Baron
  3. Judge Stevens
  4. Mr. Grierson

1. Emily Grierson

Emily Grierson is the protagonist in this book. She is reclusive, mysterious, and complex. Her life can be summed up as significantly miserable. Due to her way of life, she becomes the subject of speculation and gossip in her small Southern town, Jefferson. Some profound events that lead to Emily’s descent into isolation and madness are her father’s controlling nature and her tragic romantic relationship with the Northern businessman. Emily’s trait, such as controlling, stubbornness, and delusional, precipitates her downfall as she irrationally holds on to the past.

2. Homer Baron

Another central key character in A Rose for Emily is Homer Baron. Homer is a Northern laborer sent to Jefferson, specifically where Emily resides, to work on the construction of the sidewalks. Another striking features of Homer are that he is loud and large. A romantic relationship starts to brew between Homer and Emily, though Homer refuses to marry her and vows to leave her. The community believes it is because of Homer’s questionable secular orientation that makes him decline the marriage proposal. Emily thus murders Homer by poisoning him.

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3. Mr. Grierson

One minor character in A Rose for Emily is Mr. Grierson. He is Emily’s father and a former mayor of the town. He is a strict patriarchal figure who denies Emily from leaving the house or having a suitor. His motivation stems from the desire to maintain his family’s social standing and reputation. The controlling nature of Mr. Grierson greatly contributes to Emily’s isolation and mental decline. Emily’s mental distress worsens after Mr. Grierson dies because he was the only person who ever had control of her life, even though it was damaging.

4. Judge Stevens

Judge Stevens is a minor character in Faulkner’s story. He is an influential and respected person in the Jefferson community. His obvious features include his head’s white hair and patriarchal nature; he is keen on upholding past traditions. Stevens and other town leaders take it upon themselves to address the foul smell emancipating from Emily's house, where they sprinkle lime in the house’s perimeter.

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Setting in A Rose for Emily

The story of A Rose for Emily is set in Jefferson, a small town in the southern United States. At first, the town is depicted as old-fashioned and conservative; the once-grand houses are decaying and falling in disrepair.

Emily’s house is a perfect example of a decaying building. Once upon a time, it was an elegant mansion; now it is bordered by overgrown shrubs and weeds, the interior is dusty and stuffy, and the furniture and relics belong to a long-gone era.

The community of the town is closely-knit and highly skeptical of outsiders. The southern climate is oppressively hot with high humidity, which contributes to a sense of stagnation and suffocation.

The setting, however, changes when the plot develops. Emily’s emotional and mental decline gets more focused while the town starts to be modernized. The town starts to have paved streets, and new buildings are erected.

Plot Summary of A Rose for Emily

A Rose for Emily details a story of a reclusive woman, Emily Grierson, and the strange events in her life. The story begins with Emilly’s death, then shifts to the past, which provides some history about Emily.

Emily is raised in a respected and wealthy family, though the family falls from its socioeconomic status as time elapses.  Emily’s father is controlling, refusing Emily to get married. In the end, this makes Emily lonely and isolated. After her father’s death, Emily permanently cements her reclusive behavior, as she rarely goes out of the house or interacts with anyone throughout her life.

The major twist happens when Emily forms a relationship with Homer Baron, the Northern laborer. The townspeople are against this relationship, though after a while, rumors start to spread about the marriage of Emily and Homer. Out of nowhere, Homer disappears, and Emily is not seen for a lengthy period.

The plot’s climax occurs when Homer's corpse is found after Emily’s death. Here, the community comes to understand the shocking truth about Homer’s disappearance. The truth is that Emily had killed Homer and kept his body in her house for all those years. The plot concludes with Emily’s funeral and the townspeople's reflection on Emily’s tragic life.

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A Rose for Emily Themes

Below are some of the most prominent themes in A Rose for Emily:

  • Tradition vs. Progress: The story shows the struggle between the old traditional values and the changing modern society. Also, tradition vs. progress is evident in Emily and Mr. Emily’s behavior of not adapting to the changing times, thus meeting their downfall.
  • Patriarchy: The following strict gender roles and power dynamics are prevalent in Jefferson Emily’s father controls Emily in all aspects of her life, such as when looking for a suitor. After the death of Emily’s father, the men in society try to exert their control over Emily.
  • Pleasure in misfortune: The phrase pleasure in misfortune means the act of people finding pleasure in the suffering of others, even in tragic circumstances. This theme is widespread in A Rose for Emily in various aspects. For example, the townspeople enjoy the deterioration of Emily’s social status and isolated
  • Time and narrative: Faulkner plays with several periods, as seen in how he repeatedly switches between the present and past. He uses a non-linear narrative structure to create a story. This strategy allows the author to shape the reader’s understanding of the events and people. For instance, it obscures and distorts the truth. A good example of this distortion can be seen in the disappearance of Homer. The readers do not straightforwardly sense that Homer has been in Emily’s house the whole time.
  • Isolation: Emily is isolated from the community by locking herself in the house and from the marriage life. In the start, her father contributed to her isolation, and then it was due to her behavior of not changing from her old self.
  • Love: An irrational and destructive nature of love happens in A Rose for Emily, resulting in a massive plot development. Emily develops this kind of love towards Homer. When Homer refuses to marry her, she kills him by poisoning him.
  • Death: This book reinforces the idea that death is inevitable and affects individuals and society. The death of Emily’s father worsens Emily’s mental state, while Homer's death helps the community assess the true extent of Emily’s madness.

A Rose for Emily Symbols

Some of the symbols in A Rose for Emily are:

  • A Rose: The title of the book is A Rose for Emily. What many readers find hard to understand is what does the “rose” mean. The title, or the word rose, is more of an irony. A rose is a symbol of love and beauty, while the story is filled with dark and tragic aspects of Emily’s life.
  • A strand of hair: Two meanings can be drawn from the strand of hair found on a pillow next to Homer’s corpse. The first meaning is the deep desire of Emily to keep Homer close forever. The other meaning is that the hair shows desperation of Emily in holding on to things and her inability to let go of the past.
  • A picture of Emily’s father: Mr. Grierson's picture symbolizes many aspects. Foremost, the attachment of Emily to the past, her resistance to letting go of her father’s control, and her inability to change. The portrait also presents the source of Emily’s psychological struggles and the oppressive patriarchy of her father that continues to haunt her even after her father’s demise.
  • Emily’s House: The house shows the state of Emily’s life, specifically the deterioration of her mental state. Emily’s house decays by the day while the town gets a new, modernized look. The same goes for Emily’s mental state.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why Did Emily Kill Homer?

Emily killed Homer because Homer refused to marry her. She used arsenic to poison him.

2. Who Can Help Me Write A Rose For Emily By William Faulkner Summary?

We can. Our experts have massive experience and advanced degrees; hence, they can work on your summary according to your needs in the shortest time. Simply place an order with us to get the service.

3. What Is A Rose For Emily About?

A Rose for Emily is about a reclusive woman in Jefferson town who descents into madness due to her rigidity to change her past behaviors.

4. What Is the Genre of A Rose For Emily?

The genre of A Rose for Emily is gothic fiction. It is gothic as its main themes revolve around grotesque events and characters, decay in the town’s morals and Emily’s house, and societal taboos.

In a Nutshell

What does A Rose for Emily involve? Or better, who are the central characters, what is the setting about, and what at the prominent themes and symbols? If these questions are running through your mind and you want direct answers, it is your lucky day. This guide touches on all these questions, among others, in a very concise and understandable manner.

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