A Rose for Emily, by William Faulker, is one of those short stories you hate to love. The story draws you in with hints of murder, desperation, shame and depravity, but keeps you from turning away by describing the plight of an aristocratic woman who would seem, at first glance, incapable of the atrocious acts you later learn she has committed. The story is skillfully told, in a manner that makes the core of the story both irresistible and accessible.
A Tale of Love and Desperation
A Rose for Emily is a story about a woman, Emily Grierson, who has been raised in the town's most beautiful old house by an overprotective father. When her father dies, Miss Emily, who up until this point was forbidden to date, takes a boyfriend. The boyfriend, Homer, is a contract worker who is in town for a short while, building sidewalks in the city center. The relationship between Miss Emily and Homer is considered scandalous, and rumors start to fly, especially since the townspeople have always revered Miss Emily and her family. The townspeople want to view Miss Emily's aging mansion, and the aging Miss Emily herself, as fallen monuments representative of the town's days of glory. Miss Emily's dating relationship is viewed as a blemish on her pristine record as a good girl who upholds the standards of the past.
When Homer disappears from town, the townspeople are relieved. Miss Emily all but vanishes from social contact, secluding herself in her old house and coming out only to teach painting classes. The town notices odd things: terrible smells that come from the house, as well as Miss Emily's obvious reclusion, but Miss Emily's servant says nothing and reveals nothing. Miss Emily remains in isolation for decades, her home and her presence acting as a last example of upstanding Southern aristocracy.
When Miss Emily dies, the servant leaves town never to be seem again. The townspeople enter the old mansion and find Homer's decayed and decades-old corpse in an upper bedroom. Beside the skeletal remains of Homer, they find evidence that Miss Emily continued to sleep beside the corpse. Not only is there the imprint of Miss Emily's body in the bed, but also one long, gray hair on the pillow, telling the townspeople that their beloved Miss Emily had slept there even as an old woman.
The story is not told in order, like this narrative might indicate. Instead, the tale is told in bits and pieces in jumbled chronological order such that the information in the story builds upon itself. The reader is both drawn in by pity and fascination with this perverse tale. A Rose for Emily is undoubtedly one of Falkner's most artful works.