A Rose for Emily | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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A Rose for Emily | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Published in 1930, the short story "A Rose for Emily" is one of William Faulkner's most famous works. In it Faulkner tells the tale of an elderly woman living in the American South shortly after the Civil War, describing her gradual descent into madness. The story focuses on Emily's inability to let go of the past, a psychological problem that manifests itself in strange and grotesque ways.

"A Rose for Emily" is one of the defining texts of the Southern Gothic genre. Faulkner so perfectly captures the nature of an era in the American South, the aesthetics of a derelict town, and the effects this setting has on those who inhabit it that he is often credited as the pioneering author of this literary movement.

1. "A Rose for Emily" was Faulkner's first story published in a national magazine.

"A Rose for Emily" was published in the political and social magazine Forum on April 30, 1930. Faulkner had wanted his work serialized in a national publication for a long time, and the acceptance of "A Rose for Emily" greatly improved his reputation as an author of naturalistic and horror-tinged writing.

2. Faulkner referred to "A Rose for Emily" as a "ghost story."

Emily is trapped, both in her own home and in the past, leading the author to refer to his text as a "ghost story," even though it features no actual supernatural creatures. He said in an interview that the idea came from a specific image:

That came from ... a picture of the strand of hair on the pillow. It was a ghost story. Simply a picture of a strand of hair on the pillow in the abandoned house.

3. Ernest Hemingway criticized "A Rose for Emily."

Hemingway was no great fan of Faulkner. He once stated:

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

He went on to say the quality of Faulkner's writing had fallen off over the years, citing alcoholism as a factor.

4. Faulkner described how the title "A Rose for Emily" is an allegory.

Speaking of his character Emily, Faulkner stated, "I feel sorry for Emily's tragedy; her tragedy was, she was an only child, an only daughter." He went on to explain, "[The title] was an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute ... to a woman you would hand a rose." In the story no physical rose is mentioned, but the symbol of the rose may represent the love Emily sought to preserve by killing Homer.

5. The author's last name was originally spelled "Falkner."

It's unclear how the author's name underwent a spelling change, as his family's historically preserved home is credited as the "Falkner house." When asked about the change in spelling, Faulkner replied, "Either way suits me."

6. Scholars have "mapped" Faulkner's fictional setting of Yoknapatawpha County.

The county appears as the setting for many of Faulkner's works, including "A Rose for Emily," As I Lay Dying, and Absalom! Absalom! among others. A group of literary scholars, cartographers, and technical programmers worked together to map all the points of interest in Faulkner's county in the "Digital Yoknapatawpha Project."

7. "A Rose for Emily" is a critique of the Civil War's effects.

In addition to painting a portrait of hopeless, confined individuals, Faulkner wanted to include the historical importance of the South's decay after the American Civil War. Emily can be read as a product of the "pre-war gentility" of the South, a social niche that lost most of its power and influence after the war, with people becoming stuck in their old ways. As with the two old Southern gentlemen—Colonel Sartoris and Judge Stevens—seeking to preserve Emily's dignity, Faulkner wanted to preserve the honor and dignity of the post–Civil War South.

8. Rock bands have written songs based on "A Rose for Emily."

The band The Zombies included a song by the same name on their 1968 album Odessey and Oracle—the song talks about how there is no rose and no love for Emily. My Chemical Romance also featured a song based on the story, entitled "To the End," on their 2004 album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. In that song a rich man dates a woman but is often looking at other men, much like Homer in "A Rose for Emily."

9. The popularity of "A Rose for Emily" increased when it was reprinted in a larger collection.

Though originally published in Forum, "A Rose for Emily" was later reprinted for These 13, Faulkner's first large collection of short stories. These 13 had a much greater impact on his writing career than previous publications as it sold more copies than everything except the novel Sanctuary.

10. Faulkner never graduated from high school.

Despite being an iconic American author praised for his works, Faulkner never received a high school diploma. Deemed too short to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, he later attended university classes for a mere three semesters before dropping out.

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