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A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, in 1897. One of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, Faulkner earned his fame from a series of novels that explore the South’s historical legacy, its fraught and often tensely violent present, and its uncertain future. This grouping of major works includes The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1931), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), all of which are rooted in Faulkner’s fictional Mississippi county, Yoknapatawpha. This imaginary setting is a microcosm of the South that Faulkner knew so well. It serves as a lens through which he could examine the practices, folkways, and attitudes that had divided and united the people of the South since the nation’s inception.

In his writing, Faulkner was particularly interested in exploring the moral implications of history. As the South emerged from the Civil War and Reconstruction and attempted to shed the stigma of slavery, its residents were frequently torn between a new and an older, more established world order. Religion and politics frequently fail to provide order and guidance and instead complicate and divide. Society, with its gossip, judgment, and harsh pronouncements, conspires to thwart the ambitions of individuals struggling to embrace their identities. Across Faulkner’s fictional landscapes, individual characters often stage epic struggles, prevented from realizing their potential or establishing their place in the world.

“A Rose for Emily” was the first short story that Faulkner published in a major magazine. It appeared in the April 30, 1930, issue of Forum. Despite the earlier publication of several novels, when Faulkner published this story he was still struggling to make a name for himself in the United States. Few critics recognized in his prose the hallmarks of a major new voice. Slightly revised versions of the story appeared in subsequent collections of Faulkner’s short fiction—in These 13 (1931) and then Collected Stories (1950)—which helped to increase its visibility.

Today, the much-anthologized story is among the most widely read and highly praised of Faulkner’s work. Beyond its lurid appeal and somewhat Gothic atmosphere, Faulkner’s “ghost story,” as he once called it, gestures to broader ideas, including the tensions between North and South, complexities of a changing world order, disappearing realms of gentility and aristocracy, and rigid social constraints placed on women. Ultimately, it is the story’s chilling portrait of aberrant psychology and necrophilia that draws readers into the dank, dusty world of Emily Grierson.

Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 and the Pulitzer Prize in both 1955 and 1962. He died in Byhalia, Mississippi on July 6, 1962, when he was sixty-four.

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