Study Guide

A Rose for Emily

By William Faulkner

A Rose for Emily Introduction

You've probably heard some things about William Faulkner.

And, if you're anything like us, what you've heard is this: he's brilliant, his writing is luminous, he's written a few of the Great American Novels, and he's hard.

Like impenetrably hard. Like the only people who can actually read his work are PhD students-hard. Like study guides were invented because people can't make sense of Faulkner-hard.

And you're half right. If this were a guide for The Sound and the Fury, we'd be right there with you. But we're talking about one of Faulkner's short n' sweet pieces: "A Rose For Emily."

Er—maybe short n' sweet isn't the right phrase. Maybe what we actually mean is short n' sour. Or short n' salty. Or maybe short n' acrid.

Because this slim little story is also a masterclass in Southern Gothic at its most grotesque. Here's what goes down: after her dad dies and her boyfriend skips town, Miss Emily stays locked in her house guarding a super-nasty, super-morbid secret. That's all we want to divulge, because the Big Reveal is one of the things that makes this story so very, very excellent.

In fact, it's so excellent that it's often cited as William Faulkner's best short story—and even one of the best American short stories of the 20th Century. (It's certainly one of the most anthologized.) It's even been made into a movie starring Morticia Addams—sorry, Angelica Huston—as Miss Emily.

There's only warning we want to give you before you take the plunge—this story might make you eager to explore the rest of Faulkner's fictional county of Yoknapatawpha. And once you start getting deeper into Faulkner-land, it does start getting harder.

It also starts getting more entrancing, more captivating, and more out-of-this-solar-system genius. So don't say we didn't warn you: one reading of "A Rose For Emily" can turn into a lifetime spent as a Faulkner fanboy.

   

What is A Rose for Emily About and Why Should I Care?

Real talk: life hands out a ton o' loss.

We learn this in degrees. If we're lucky, our first experiences of loss are pretty easy ones. A pet goldfish takes a swim down the toilet. A too-well-loved teddy bear falls to bits. Our T-ball team doesn't win.

But even if we start learning to ropes of loss at a gentle pace, we end up facing down more and more loss as we grow older. Grandparents pass away. Dream colleges reject our applications. Our high school boyfriend breaks up with us.

We're crushed. We spend days crying and eating ice cream and watching comforting TV shows. And then: we get back up, we wash our faces, and we go back to living life. Eventually, we come to an unsettling conclusion: the loss is just going to keep on keeping on. Life contains a staggering amount of loss, and we're just going to have to deal.

Because if we don't, we might end up like Miss Emily.

"A Rose For Emily" is a case study in what not to do when faced with loss. Miss Emily refuses to confront the fact that her father dies. She refuses to confront the fact that her boyfriend might not want to marry her. She refuses to confront the fact that she owes taxes (hey: money loss is still loss). Instead, she shuts herself up in her old house, guards a very morbid secret, and refuses to go out into the world...because it contains too much loss.

Not only that, but Emily lives in a community that refuses to face up to a different kind of loss: the loss of the antebellum Southern way of life. Her community clings to antiquated values about women, race, money, and morality...until progress sweeps in and forces them to accept the fact that change exists. 

Yeah: "A Rose For Emily" isn't exactly uplifting.

But what it is, though, is a massive wake-up call. Even when life throws us curveballs and loss seems like the name of the game, it's better than the alternative. The only thing worse than a life full of loss is a life spent avoiding loss...because living in fear of loss can hardly be called "living" at all.

A Rose for Emily Resources

Movie or TV Productions

A 1982 Film Adaptation
Anjelica Huston plays Miss Emily.

Audios

"A Rose for Emily" Lyrics
So you know what the Zombies are saying….

"To the End" Lyrics
Read the lyrics here.

Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech
Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. You can listen to his speech, or read the transcript, here.

Images

William Faulkner…
…Getting a tan.

Documents

Faulkner's "Banquet Speech"
The transcript of Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

"The Curse & The Hope"
Faulkner's in Time Magazine

Author Biography
Faulkner's biography, brought to you by the Nobel Foundation.

Other

Southern Gothic Genre
More information on the Southern Gothic genre, brought to you by Oprah's Book Club.

An excellent Faulkner Resource
A great resource on Faulkner created by the University of Mississippi.