In “A Rose For Emily,” William Faulkner imitates associative Southern storytelling style as an unnamed first-person narrator speaks for the entire town of Jefferson, relating what all the townspeople know or believe. Unlike typical Faulkner stories that employ multiple individual narrators, “A Rose for Emily” achieves the effect of multiple narrators by combining them into a single narrative voice, an unnamed (and not always consistent) narrator. First-person plural pronouns emphasize that this narrator represents the consciousness of the town. This style is similar to that used in Greek tragedy, wherein chorus and chorus leader provide the reader/audience with information, interpret the characters’ actions, and express public opinion; thus, the narrator in “A Rose for Emily,” whose age and gender are never identified, can be designated a choric character.
The narrative sequence in this story is not chronological; the reader learns Miss Emily’s history in much the same way a newcomer to Jefferson might hear about her history. As the story opens, Miss Emily apparently has just died, and the townspeople are discussing her strange and sad life. Faulkner relates various incidents in her life, but these incidents are related thematically, not chronologically. Faulkner builds suspense by imitating the southern storyteller’s style of describing people and events through situation-triggered memories; hence, the plot is associative rather than chronological.
The story’s primary theme—the destructive effects of time, most notably change and decay—is familiar to readers of Faulkner. Change is Miss Emily’s enemy, so she refuses to acknowledge it, whether that change is the death of her father, the arrival of tax bills, the decay of her house, or even the beginning of residential mail delivery. Furthermore, her attitude toward the death of her father (and later the death of Colonel Sartoris) foreshadows her attitude toward the death of Homer Barron. Because Miss Emily is associated with the passage of time (her ticking watch is concealed in her bosom—heard but never seen), one might consider her to be living outside the normal limitations of time or, perhaps, simply not existing. Thus, she appears to combine life and death in her own person.
A minor theme in the story is the social structure of the early twentieth century American South, as it is being eroded by the industrialized New South. To avoid embarrassing Miss Emily, Colonel Sartoris devises a convoluted explanation of Jefferson’s pre-Civil War debt to the Griersons, but this same man, also, had authored an edict that any African American woman appearing on Jefferson’s streets without an apron could be beaten. Likewise, to avoid appearing to give Miss Emily charity, the families of Jefferson send their young daughters to Miss Emily’s house for china-painting lessons. Most significant, though, is the change in Jefferson’s attitude toward the relationship between Miss Emily (a descendant of Southern gentility) and Homer (a working man, and a Northerner). Initially, the townspeople are horrified by their coupling, but gradually they come to accept Homer as a good choice for Miss Emily, perhaps as a matter of necessity.
Like most Faulkner stories, “A Rose for Emily” is highly symbolic. Miss Emily is described as a fallen monument to the chivalric American South. Reenforcing the themes of change and decay, her house, once an elegant mansion, has become a decaying eyesore in the middle of a neighborhood that has changed from residential to industrial. Another prominent symbol is the crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father, associated with the oppressive hold of the past on the present. Although less elegant than an oil portrait, the crayon portrait is important to Miss Emily, and it is seen by the rare visitor who enters her house.
The pseudo-chivalry of the townspeople comes out in several symbolic actions, such as when parents send their daughters to Miss Emily for china-painting lessons, when civic leaders spread lime around her yard to deal with the foul odor emanating from her house, and when Colonel Sartoris decrees that she will never have to pay local taxes. In contrast, Homer’s carriage—considered gaudy by the townspeople—symbolizes the difference between the town’s old-fashioned attitudes (reflective of the Old South) and Homer’s more modern one (reflective of the emerging New South).
In this gothic story, though, perhaps the most vivid symbols are the locked room in Miss Emily’s house and the long iron-gray hair found on a pillow inside. The room symbolizes the secrecy and mystery associated with Miss Emily’s house and her relationship with Homer. The location of the hair as well as its color and length suggest a continuing interaction between Miss Emily and the corpse of Homer, again indicating her refusal to acknowledge the finality of death.
In Faulkner’s youth, a popular literary genre was the reconciliation story, in which a Southern lady and a Northern man fall in love, thus helping to resolve the sectional conflict remaining after the Civil War. Faulkner’s story can be read as a reaction against this sentimentality. Faulkner never describes the actual relationship between Miss Emily and Homer; thus, readers must decide whether “A Rose for Emily” is a gothic psychological tale or a tragic story of unrequited love.
In various stories and novels, Faulkner focuses on both individuals and their cultural milieu, and he repeatedly uses Jefferson as a microcosm for the early twentieth century South. In “A Rose for Emily,” Jefferson also is a microcosm for the United States after World War I and its transition from an agrarian society to the beginnings of an urban-industrial society. The cotton gin near Miss Emily’s house bridges this transition, as it combines the cotton culture of the antebellum South with the emerging industrialism of the increasingly urban New South. The tension arising from the collision of these cultures has given rise to a creative outburst of which Faulkner and “A Rose for Emily” are significant parts.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the major themes in “A Rose for Emily” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “A Rose for Emily” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Diagnosing Miss Emily in “A Rose for Emily”
Miss Emily Grierson, the title character in the story “A Rose for Emily," is certainly a bizarre character. Withdrawn from society, trapped in a world of delusions, Emily never receives any psychiatric treatment, but she definitely exhibits symptoms indicative of mental illness. By examining Emily’s behavior and her social relationships, it is possible to diagnose Emily with a mental illness. Although her community never thought Emily was “crazy," she was indeed a very ill person. If you're having trouble identifying signs of mental illness in Miss Emily, this psychological character analysis of Emily will be quite helpful.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Community in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
In “A Rose for Miss Emily," the entire community conspires—albeit unconsciously—to protect both Miss Emily and the small town from the shame and stigma of Miss Emily’s illness and idiosyncratic behavior. By examining the different behaviors and statements of the members of the community, the reasons for their denial will be identified and analyzed. It will be argued that the community is highly invested in protecting their identity as an upstanding, traditional Southern community. Even though their behavior is dysfunctional, it is adaptive for their purposes.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Importance of Physical Place in “A Rose for Emily”
There is the macrocosmic setting of the South that lends a sense of place, both physical and psychological, to “A Rose for Emily," as well as the microcosmic setting of the house in which Emily has spent most of her adult life in bed with the corpse of her fiance. Both places are critical and are used to reinforce the psychological landscape of the story. By examining both of these settings—the macrocosmic and the microcosmic—the writer will explain how physical place contextualizes and emphasizes psychological place.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Effect of the Omniscient, Anonymous Narrator in “A Rose for Emily”
One of the interesting techniques that Faulkner used to develop “A Rose for Emily" was his use of an unnamed narrator whose relationship to Emily and whose role in the life of the town is somewhat ambiguous. Still, the reader cannot help but be struck by the way in which the narrator tells the story of the strange Miss Emily, constantly using the word “we" to describe the feelings of the townspeople and their suspicions of Miss Emily. In this essay, the effect of this narrative style will be examined through close textual analysis.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic # 5: The Role of “The Negro" in “A Rose for Emily
One of the only townspeople to have contact with Miss Emily during her years of isolation is an older African American man who never speaks but who nonetheless plays a critical role in the development of the story. Though he is asked what happens inside the house, he never discloses any of Miss Emily’s private behavior, despite its eccentricity. The writer will analyze the character of the Negro, who is unnamed, and the importance that he has in the story’s development. The writer will also speculate on the reasons for his secrecy.
For more a more extensive understanding of a few of these themes in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, check out the helpful articles A Psychological Character Analysis of Faulkner's Miss Emily and Comparison of Themes in “A Rose for Emily" “The Yellow Wallpaper" and “Sweat"
This list of important quotations from “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “A Rose for Emily” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…." (47)
“I’d be the last one in the world to bother Miss Emily…." (50)
“Dammit, sir…will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad " (51)
“The day after [her father’s] death, all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door,… with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days…. " (52)
“We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that." (52)
“She carried her head high enough—even when we believed that she was fallen." (53)
“[T]he law requires you tell what you are going to use [the arsenic] for. Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up." (54)
“So the next day we all said, ‘She will kill herself’ and we said it would be the best thing." (55)
“Thus she passed from generation to generation—dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse." (57)
“The Negro met the first of the ladies at the front door and let them in… and then he disappeared. He walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again." (58)
Reference: Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily." Selected Short Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1993.