Essay on Characterization within A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

By using strong characterization and dramatic imagery, William Faulkner introduces us to Miss Emily Grierson in “A Rose for Emily”. The product of a well-established, but now fallen family, Emily plays common role found in literature- a societal outcast, who earns her banishment from society through her eclectic behavior and solitary background. Often living in denial and refusing to engage with others, Emily responds to her exile by spending the remainder of her life as a mysterious recluse that the rest of society is more content to ignore rather than break social customs to confront her. Emily’s role as an outcast mirrors a major theme of the story, that denial is a powerful tool in hiding a secret, however, the truth will eventually emerge. The mystery surrounding Emily’s character and the story’s memorable imagery creates a haunting tale that lingers with the reader.

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a short story told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator and opens with the death of Miss Emily Grierson, an elderly woman that the reader quickly learns that the town views more as a character than an actual human being. Through flashbacks, the mysterious and haunting tale of Emily is revealed. As a child, Emily was the member of an aristocratic family, but has now long been living in relative poverty in the former grand home of her family after her father left her with no money. The product of the Civil War South, Emily never moved past the social customs of her youth, and refused to live according to modern standards. This becomes evident when she accepts the mayor’s hidden charity under the guise of her never owing taxes due to a lie that her father had loaned the town money and this was how the town would re…

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… had occurred. Emily’s neighbors refuse to acknowledge this, and instead try to cover the smell up with lime. They try to excuse themselves from finding the real source of the rotten odor by saying it would be wrong to tell a lady that her house smells. Even though they and Emily went along with this charade, it cannot completely disappear. The truth finally appears after her death, when it is revealed that Homer had been rotting in his wedding bed since the town thought he he had skipped out. It is a strong image when the state of decay is described to the reader and the townspeople realize that a single strand of Emily’s gray hair is proof that she had been sleeping beside him for all of those years.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” A Critical Introduction to Short Fiction. Eds. JoAnn Buck et al. Southlake: Fountainhead Press. 96-103. Print.

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