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Teaching Guide

Teaching A Rose for Emily

Stop and smell this story.


"A Rose for Emily" has it all: creepy old ladies, murder, and necrophilia. (Yep, that's what we mean by "it all.") Our teaching guide has it all, too: analysis of classic Southern Gothic lit, a timeline to keep the events of the story in order, and a portal into the South of the 1930s. Okay, not a literal portal, but the closest you're going to get.

In this guide you will get

  • tons of activities, including one that lets your students find a (fictional) grave and create an epitaph for it.
  • loads of modern connections, like a short film starring Anjelica Huston.
  • reading quizzes to ensure students know just how freaky-deaky this story really is.

And, of course, much more.

So open up this reading guide and look inside. No dead people in here, we promise.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Let's face it—this story is going to creep your students out. 

  • "You mean she kept his body in that bed all those years?" 

          And ...

  • That's why there was a funny smell coming from her house?"

Yeah. It's dark. And kind of gross. But there's a lot to learn about the way the townspeople viewed Miss Emily, the way she viewed herself, and the way the reader's view of her shifts throughout the narrative. It's all about point of view.   In

In this activity, students will explore (and eventually explain) how the choice of a narrator or voice affects characterization. In order to achieve this objective, they'll first analyze perspectives in the story for the sake of writing an epitaph for the character of Emily Grierson.  Then they'll write a short explanation of their epitaph and its perspective on the main character.

Lesson Length: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed: Chart paper, markers

Step 1: After students have read their intro and seen some of the amusing epitaphs included there, take a minute to show them that epitaphs don't actually have to be funny. Here are a couple of good ones for making that point:

  • Ernest Hemingway: "Best of all he loved the fall/ The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods/ Leaves floating on the trout streams/ And above the hills/ The high blue windless skies/ Now he will be a part of them forever." 
  • Ed Koch:  Koch chose two quotes for his tombstone—a Hebrew prayer, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” and the final words of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed by terrorists in 2002: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” He also wrote his own epitaph, which appears on the base of his tombstone: "He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II."

Step 2: Introduce the plan to write an epitaph for the character of Emily Grierson. Initiate a discussion on perspective by considering the use of the first-person plural narrator ("we") and listing key characters other than Emily on a board. Consider what each of those characters would think about Emily. Suggestions: "The Negro," Judge Stevens, a female neighbor, a male neighbor.

Step 3: Split the class into small groups. Each group will be responsible for one of the town characters listed on the board. Group members will brainstorm what that character would say about Emily in an epitaph. They should write their ideas down on chart paper as a cluster. 

(Here's a sample cluster on Roller Skating. Some of the associations are a little weird, but it's a good example if your students need one.) 

Remind students that their ideas should be supported with key quotations from the text. 

Step 4: After each group has completed its cluster for the character, facilitate a discussion in which each group shares its ideas with the class. 

Step 5: To introduce the writing of the epitaph, you can use one of the characters discussed in class and lead a shared writing session—i.e., gather suggestions from the students and write out a model epitaph at the front of the class.

Step 6: Now that the students have a model in mind, have them complete their own epitaphs for Emily, from the perspective of another character in the story—not one of the characters that has already been discussed. They can start these in class if there's time, but most likely this will be a homework assignment.

Step 7 [optional]: As an extension exercise, students can write a 1-2 page literary explanation (grounded in textual analysis) of their epitaphs. Here's a prompt: 

Write a 1-2 page literary response that explains how your epitaph reveals the character traits of Miss Emily, your character, or both. Use quotations and examples from the text to support your thoughts.

Step 8: Once the assignments have been completed, have students share their epitaphs in order to discuss the perspectives of the characters in the story. You can small-group or large-group this part of the program, depending how much class time you have to spare—and how comfortable students are reading aloud in front of an audience. Small groups, or even just pairs, may be more appropriate.  

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th&10th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9; Writing: 2.2. 11th & 12th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.3, 3.4, 3.9; Writing: 2.2.)

Instructions for Your Students

Tombstones can be spooky. They can be somber. And they can also be hilarious. 


You heard us. Hil-ar-i-ous. Think we're crazy? Think again. Surely you'd laugh if you saw this written on a tombstone:

  • I told you I was ill.

Or maybe one of these:

  • Excuse my dust.
  • 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288...
  • Jeez, he was just here a minute ago.

Those are the epitaphs of Spike Milligan, Dorothy Parker, Ludolph van Ceulen (the guy who discovered Pi), and George Carlin, respectively. So you see, tombstones can be pretty amusing under the right circumstances. 

The tombstone of Emily Grierson, however ... well, we're not sure. Would it be funny? Serious? Creepy? All three? 

Is that even possible? 

We're not sure. But the thing is, A Rose for Emily is all about death. The story begins with the whole town gathered for Miss Emily's funeral. So now, we want you to get into the heads of some of those folks who were in attendance and figure out what they might have written for her epitaph. 

Step 1: After a brief discussion of epitaphs and a few of the characters in attendance at Emily Grierson's funeral, your teacher will divide you into small groups and assign each group one of the character's you've just identified. With your group, determine what kinds of things your character might think and say about Miss Emily in an epitaph. You can can write your ideas down on chart paper as a cluster or just brainstorms a list. Ideas should be supported with key quotations from the text.

Step 2: Next, you'll share your ideas for your characters' thoughts and feelings about Miss Emily with the whole class—and see what other groups came up with for their characters. 

Step 3: Now, on your own, choose a character from the story and write an epitaph for Miss Emily from that character's perspective. There may be time to start this in class, but you'll need to finish it as homework. If you need a little help getting started, check out these sections on Shmoop:

Step 4 [optional]: Write a 1-2 page literary response that explains how your epitaph reveals the character traits of Miss Emily, your character, or both. Use quotations and examples from the text to support your thoughts.

Step 5: Once your epitaph is complete, you will have a chance to share it with the class in some form—small group, large group, pairs, trios ... your teacher will let you know.

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