A Rose for Emily

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A Rose for Emily Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Faulkner
William Faulkner was born to a wealthy family in Mississippi, the oldest of four brothers. His mother and grandmother, both avid readers and artists themselves, were among the early influences in his creative life, as was Caroline Barr, the black woman who raised and educated him. When he was still a boy, Faulkner’s family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where his grandfather owned several businesses; Faulkner would go on to spend most of his life there. Both a high school and college dropout despite obvious intelligence and talent, Faulkner published his first book in 1924, a collection of poetry entitled The Marble Faun, after which he dedicated himself exclusively to fiction, including novels, short stories, and screenplays. Despite persistent financial difficulties and his crippling alcoholism, Faulkner would go on to complete a multitude of novels, including such masterpieces as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). For his literary achievement, Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. He died some thirteen years later of a heart attack in Byhalia, Mississippi.
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Historical Context of A Rose for Emily
After the North defeated the South in the American Civil War (1861-1865), slavery was abolished and many of the wealthy white Southern families consequently lost their primary source of income in agriculture, as is quite likely the case with the Griersons featured in “A Rose for Emily.” During the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War, the U.S. government implemented policies designed to economically rehabilitate the South and secure the rights of freed blacks, but with relatively little success. Soon after the Reconstruction Era ended in 1877, many Southern communities defiantly regressed to old cultural norms which involved aristocratic ideals founded on those established during the heyday of Southern slave-owning plantations and the marginalization and persecution of black Americans. This is the world of “A Rose for Emily,” where a yearning for a glorified Southern past conflicts with social and industrial change and progress.
Other Books Related to A Rose for Emily
“A Rose for Emily” participates in the Southern Gothic genre, which applies the conventions of Gothic fiction—such as gloomy and eerie settings, eccentric and grotesque characters, as well as a sense of dreadful mystery and ghostly hauntedness—to the American South after the Civil War. Earlier Gothic fiction includes works like Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and those composed by the American Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849). It was by drawing on works like these that Faulkner and other Southerners he influenced—including Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy—examined and conveyed with such effective horror how haunted and paralyzed the South was after the Civil War by its conception of its own glorified and genteel past—a past nonetheless morally contaminated by the racist, oppressive, and dehumanizing institution of slavery.
Key Facts about A Rose for Emily
  • Full Title: “A Rose for Emily”
  • Where Written: Oxford, Mississippi
  • When Published: April 30, 1930
  • Literary Period: American Modernism
  • Genre: Southern Gothic
  • Setting: The fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi, located in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, where many of Faulkner’s works are set
  • Climax: The townspeople’s discovery that Miss Emily murdered Homer Barron and lived with his corpse
  • Antagonist: Southern society’s paralyzing nostalgia for a glorified past, as well as its rigid customs and conventions
  • Point of View: First-person plural (“we”) limited
Extra Credit for A Rose for Emily

A Rose for the Title. Readers will notice that, though the story is entitled “A Rose for Emily,” Emily never receives a rose. Faulkner explained in an interview: “Oh, that was an allegorical title: the meaning was, here was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it. And I pitied her and this was a salute. Just as if you were to make a gesture, a salute to anyone: to a woman you would hand a rose.”

A Family Legacy. Colonel Sartoris, a minor character in “A Rose for Emily,” appears in other works by Faulkner, including the novels Flags in the Dust and The Unvanquished; he is modeled on Faulkner’s own great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, a Confederate colonel in the Civil War, a businessman, and an author.