A Rose for Emily – A Formalist Approach

Using a formalist approach to critiquing this story gave me a different way of reading “A Rose for Emily.” I went into reading this piece with the decision already made that I would use a formalist approach.

The narration of “A Rose for Emily” is written in the first person, or as a member of the community. Using phrases such as, “we did not say she was crazy then” (86) made the story believable, as if it actually happened, rather than a third-person narrative most fiction stories use. The imagery Faulkner presents in this story gives off a setting in the old south. Words such as “tradition,” (93) “generation” (93), and “sort of hereditary obligation” (93) contribute to an old southern feel. Even though the story is written as if it were told by a member of the community, the imagery is fitting since Faulkner himself is from Mississippi during the Civil War (83). The old feel of the story is suitable, since “A Rose for Emily” begins and ends with her death. The old-timey feel aids the reader in realizing that they are reading a story that switches back and forth over the main character’s life. The plot of “A Rose for Emily” jumps back and forth in non-chronological order. This method of storytelling delivers an immense element of surprise at the end of the story. The narration also ties into the element of surprise at the end of the story. Since the story is read as if a member of society were writing it in the present tense, there is very little way the reader could predict the end of the story until further down. For example, in the story Emily purchases poison, and the members of the community were certain “she will kill herself” (88). Later, Emily’s cousins report to the community “that she had bought a complete outfit of men’s clothing, including a nightshirt” (88). However, if the events of the story were reversed in order, it would be easier for the reader to conclude what actually happened – that Emily murdered Herbert with rat poison. Part of using a formalist approach in deciding whether or not a story can be considered a piece of art. In my opinion, I think that “A Rose for Emily” can be considered a piece of art. Faulkner won a Nobel Peace Prize in literature, and I can certainly see why. The story was at first slightly confusing as far as the plot goes, but as the story developed the plot became more apparent. Even if the plot were understood from the beginning, Faulkner has a strong command of English, creating wonderful scenes of imagery and I was able to see everything that was being described in the story vividly.

What happened in A Rose for Emily?

In section V, the narrator describes what happens after Emily dies. Emily’s body is laid out in the parlor, and the women, town elders, and two cousins attend the service. After some time has passed, the door to a sealed upstairs room that had not been opened in forty years is broken down by the townspeople.

What is the main point of A Rose for Emily?

The story explores themes of death and resistance to change. Also, it reflects the decaying of the societal tenets of the South in the 1930s. Emily Grierson had been oppressed by her father for most of her life and hadn’t questioned it because that was her way of living.

A Rose for Emily Summary

“A Rose for Emily” is a short story by William Faulkner that exemplifies the Southern gothic genre.

Miss Emily Grierson’s funeral is attended by everyone in town. She was a relic of the Southern gentry and spent her life isolated from the community.

Emily’s father prevented her from socializing when she was young. After his death, Emily became the frequent companion of a lower-class Northerner, Homer Barron. It was rumored that they were engaged.

Homer vanished. For the rest of Emily’s life—over thirty years—she remained in her house.

Exploring Emily’s house after her funeral, the townspeople find a man’s skeleton in her bed. It is strongly implied to be Homer Barron’s.



William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” was published in the April 30, 1930 edition of Forum magazine. It was Faulkner’s first short story to be published in a notable magazine. Though it received minimal attention after its first publication, “A Rose For Emily” has gone on to be one of Faulkner’s most popular works. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, and is now hailed as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His works deal primarily with the cultural shifts that occurred in the post-Civil War South. “A Rose For Emily” is one of many of Faulkner’s works, such as Sartoris, to be set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.

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“A Rose For Emily” uses a non-chronological structure to tell the story of Emily Grierson. Emily, a faded Southern Bell, dies at the age of 74 after leading an isolated life. The curious townsfolk come together for her funeral and reflect on her history in Jefferson, Mississippi. Their recollections include the details of Emily’s scandalous relationship with a Northern laborer named Homer Barron. The narrator uses the collective pronoun “we” in order to give the sense that the entire town is reflecting on Emily’s life. The story is sometimes read as an allegory for the resistance of the Old South, as represented by Emily, to modernization, as represented by both Homer and the younger generations of Jefferson.

Plot Summary

William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is set in the antebellum South, as the entire population of the city of Jefferson attends Emily Grierson’s funeral. Emily, the last member of the aristocratic Grierson family, led an isolated life. The people of Jefferson viewed her as a “hereditary obligation upon the town” ever since a previous mayor remitted her taxes. Now that she has passed away, people are curious to see the inside of her house, which has been sealed for ten years.

The story then shifts into the past and tells the story of Emily’s life. Section one reveals that Emily was raised by a controlling father who drove away all of her suitors, believing that none of them were good enough for his daughter. After her father died, Emily was left a destitute spinster. As a show of respect for her aristocratic status, Colonel Sartoris, the mayor of Jefferson at the time, remitted Emily’s taxes. He did so by fabricating a story about Emily’s father having given a large amount of money to the town. Years later, when the younger generation of politicians began attempting to get Emily to pay her taxes, she refused, telling them to “see Colonel Sartoris.” However, Colonel Sartoris had been dead for ten years by that point.

Section two details an incident from two years after Emily’s father’s death. Shortly after Emily’s sweetheart abandoned her, a smell began emanating from her house. The neighbors asked old Judge Stevens to talk to her about it. However, Judge Stevens scolded them for even considering confronting a woman of Emily’s status about smelling bad. So, late one night, a group of men snuck onto Emily’s estate and sprinkled lime around the house to combat the smell. 

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