A Rose for Emily, a short story by William Faulkner first published on April 30, 1930, is distinctive for its unusual use of first-person plural point of view and non-chronological ordering of episodes. This (at the time) controversial story took place in Yoknapatawpha County, an often revisited setting of Faulkner's.
A Rose for Emily recounts the story of an eccentric spinster, Emily Grierson. An unnamed narrator details the strange circumstances of Emily’s life and her odd relationships with her father who controlled and manipulated her, her lover Homer Barron, the townspeople of Jefferson who gossip about her, and her horrible secret. In her upstairs room, she hides Barron's corpse, which explains the horrid stench that emits from Miss Emily's house.
The story’s complexities inspired critics while casual readers found the work one of Faulkner’s most accessible (and shortest) works. The popularity of the story was due in no small part to its gruesome ending.
Faulkner based the story upon a true incident. A good friend of his, Emily Grierson of Oxford, invited a gentleman in her home to live with the promise of marriage. After a few months, or perhaps a year or more, he decided she was not his cup of tea. He told her he was leaving and she bade him goodbye. And that was where the story ended until word reached Mr. Faulkner. As a token of his esteem, he wrote "A Rose for Emily" and presented this to her. This was, in Faulkner's mind, a most fitting way to revenge the heartache Homer Barron heaped upon his good friend. The rose indeed was for his friend, Emily Grierson. Thus there were two versions: the real life version and Faulkner's fictional account.
The story explores many themes, including the society of the South at that time, the role of women in the South, and extreme psychosis.
In the story, the townspeople's points of views on Emily actually reflect the society's value at that moment to some extent. Although the townspeople don't have direct contact with Emily, their views on her and her family greatly affect her life. Their praises and admiration influence her father to keep her sheltered longer than she actually needs to be. Her father controls her thoughts and lifestyle. Emily feels that she is released when her father is dead. She dives into love with Homer and neglects people's judgments on her. When she realizes that Homer intends to leave her again, she makes sure that he would always be with her, whether he is alive or not. In his death Emily finds eternal love which is something no one could ever take away from her.
1) Some have speculated that Homer Barron is homosexual due to the following excerpt:
"Homer himself had remarked--he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club--that he was not a marrying man." Some consider that the language used is simply an expression that has been taken the wrong way. The statement can be interpreted as Homer liking to drink with the guys and wanting to remain a bachelor in order to continue his partying.
2) There are many arguments and ideas about what actually happened. For example:
It is accepted (even though it is not explicitly stated in the writing) that Emily poisoned Homer Barron (using the rat poison bought earlier in the story).
It is also therefore conjectured, especially because he is described as "not the marrying type," that he would not marry her, which supplies her motive for the poisoning (keeping in mind that her family had a history of insanity, and that she wanted Homer to stay with her as her husband, whether he was alive or not).
Emily is not insane. The traditions of the South, which consisted of severely limited roles for women, especially of Emily's upper class status, are represented by the narrator, townspeople, and her father. Emily's murder of Homer was a sane act which allowed her to finally take something for herself. There is indeed doubt about her sanity, yet the townspeople use this doubt as an excuse to relieve themselves of responsibility.
Her response to her father's death (when women come to the door to give their condolences, she sends them away saying that her father was not dead.) foreshadows her actions involving Homer's corpse (denial of death, acting as though they had married and he was still alive).
Some say that she had sexual relations with his corpse, which explains the gray hair found in the pillow next to it. Others argue that she did not have sexual relations with the corpse, but slept next to it, as if he were still alive.
One very rare opinion is that she only lay with the corpse at death/shortly after death. This opinion is supported by the fact that they had to break into the room, and that it appeared as though it had not been disturbed for 40 years. However, it seems to be clear that her hair began to turn gray after Homer's disappearance.
It is possible that Tobe, Emily's Negro servant, is the murderer. He has been Emily's only companion for decades, served her humbly and thoroughly, and upon learning that Homer would not marry her and was going to leave her, he may have killed him so he would "stay" with her. This would also explain the title of the story: after receiving flowers, and especially roses, they are left to desiccate so they can be preserved. In this context, Homer would be Tobe's "rose for Emily," that the woman, indeed insane, more or less gladly accepted. This is also supported by the first paragraph of the short story where we are told that Tobe is "a combined gardener and cook," so he may have been the one to use the posion in the cooking to kill Homer Barron.
There has also been speculations that the title "A rose for Emily" could be a dedication to the south. That "Emily" is the south and won't give up her "ways" that even though she should. An example of this is when she says her father isn't dead and also that she won't pay her taxes. The "taxes" example is one of great value, because "Emily" or the "South" won't change her way, and is very stubborn with not changing. As if the speculation that this short story is actually taken after the "South" is just that, a specualtion, we could never be completely sure that it is correct, especially since the author is no longer living to validate any such things.