Death and Decay in A Rose for Emily, a Short Story by William Faulkner
The Subtleties of Death
In “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, the ultimate fate of Miss Emily and her lover are foreshadowed by understated elements in the text, such as descriptions of Miss Emily and her community, events in her life, and neighborhood gossip.
The description of Miss Emily and her surroundings implies that the ending involves death and decay. For example, Miss Emily’s house is described as “lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay” (281). From the beginning, the sexual nature of rotting is revealed. The abnormal use of the word “coquettish” to describe deterioration implies their significant relationship later in the text. Furthermore, the description of Miss Emily in the later years, with “hair of an active man” personifies Homer Barron whose existence has been fulfilled solely by her imagination and persistence (288). Juxtaposed after Faulkner discloses that Homer disappears, this detail hints at the deep involvement Miss Emily has with Homer. The details of the house and herself foresee a future of perish and possession, leading to the belief that there is more to the story other than a poor, lonely woman.
The jumbled sequence of the events conveys perspectives from different time periods of the story, providing insight on events that have already occurred. For instance, in the dialogue between the druggist and Miss Emily, she declares, “I want arsenic”, and refuses to claim why (286). This event is one of many that appears suspicious and does not disclose its significance immediately. Chronologically placing this scene after the funeral and the mention of the smell adds to the mystique aura of Miss Emily’s character development. Furthermore, when Faulkner explains Miss Emily’s relations with her neighbors, he mentions that she “had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell” (283). Although the specifics of the smell are not stated, its mention raises questions about future events of the story. It allows consideration for the cause of the smell and its connection to future events. Lastly, when Faulkner writes “And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron,” the elements from previous parts of the story gain more meaning and significance (287). Emphasized by the time that passes between Homer Barron’s move into the house and Miss Emily’s death, Homer’s disappearance progresses from a fleeting concern to an odd circumstance. Due to its delayed appearance in the text, this quote implies more about the smell mentioned in the beginning of the story, and leads the reader to anticipate the demise of Homer. The next time the neighborhood sees Miss Emily after Homer’s disappearance is when her hair is gray and she has grown much fatter. Conclusive from the evidence of the rare appearance of Miss Emily and the increasingly rare occurrence of the Negro, the fate of Mr. Barron appears grim.
The ending of “A Rose for Emily” is unexpected due to the subtle nature of the foreshadowing details. From first impression, details about Miss Emily’s appearance, house, and the dialogue do not gain significance until connected to the final paragraph, where it is revealed that Homer Barron has been dead for over forty years. When the entire truth is known, these details become more prevalent in the structure of the story.
“A Rose for Emily” contains many elements throughout the text that suggest the ending of the story through the filter of her neighborhood gossip circle. Although the truth is not explained until the final paragraph, the abundance of context clues shed light on the real life of Miss Emily and Homer Barron, explaining how overseeing subtleties of life can cause a misunderstanding of the bigger picture.
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