A Rose for Emily | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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A Rose for Emily | Part 5 | Summary

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Summary

The news of Miss Emily's death spreads through the town, and Tobe meets a group of women at the door. He shows them in, then walks "right through the house and out the back," never to be seen again. Miss Emily's Alabama cousins are sent for, and the funeral takes place two days after their arrival. The whole town attends, young and old. The last living veterans of the Civil War, who are older than Miss Emily, are convinced they came of age at the same time as the deceased woman, who was born at the start of the war. The narrator observes they are "confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do."

Miss Emily is buried. Days later the townspeople finally get to see what's hiding in "one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years." The door is broken down, revealing a bridal suite covered in a "thin, acrid pall as of the tomb." The entire room is decorated in a faded rose color. A man's tarnished toilet set is on the dresser; a suit is on the chair.

Homer Barron's skeletal remains are on the bed, cloaked in a nightshirt. An indentation on the empty pillow next to him is marked only by "a long strand of iron-gray hair."

Analysis

Miss Emily didn't intend the arsenic for herself. Her target was always Homer Barron. When her cousins come to town and Homer disappears, she finally acknowledges he's not going to marry her. She's already lost one man—her father—and she's not going to lose another. Some may view Homer's death as the ultimate revenge of a woman wronged, but it can also be seen as an act of desperation. Miss Emily was terrified of being alone again. She didn't just kill Homer. She constructed a beautiful bridal suite with all the trappings of a happy newlywed couple, then killed him in her home, possibly even in that room, so she would have access to his corpse. She built the fantasy life she had been so long denied by both her father and Homer himself.

Many interpretations of "A Rose for Emily" describe Miss Emily as a necrophiliac, or someone who is sexually attracted to dead bodies. The narrator gives no indication Miss Emily engaged in such practices, only that "[t]he body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace." Miss Emily didn't want to have sex with Homer Barron's dead body; she just wanted someone, anyone, even a corpse, to lie next to her during the long, lonely nights. By the looks of the empty pillow she slept next to him for many years. Homer's death isn't a surprise to the citizens of Jefferson or the reader, but the revelation about what Miss Emily did with the body comes as a shock. Miss Emily isn't the bitter spinster the townspeople think her to be, but a deeply lonely woman whose happiness is thwarted by the ideals she held so dear.

Part 5 of "A Rose for Emily" is notable not just for what is discovered in Miss Emily's house but also for the second paragraph, in which the narrator makes personal observations about human nature. The "very old men" in their Confederate army uniforms remember the Old South not as it actually was but as "a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches." Those who cling to the past romanticize what actually happened. Miss Emily falls victim to this more than anyone else, and her life is all the more miserable for it. "A Rose for Emily" is ultimately a cautionary tale about the destructive nature of the romanticism prevalent after the Civil War, particularly with regard to women's roles in society.

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