Emily’s Ghost: William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

Let’s talk about Ghosts.

Emily's Ghost William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

A Rose For Emily is the tragic story of a life cut short by one woman’s choices, and her attempt to deal with the aftermath. Emily Grierson’s life is shaped by the influences of two men: her father, who kept her for housework, and Homer Barron, who would cast her aside. Emily Grierson dies the night she kills Homer Barron, and in her place lives the shell of a woman who continues on as if time stood still in the Antebellum age.

Emily is a dynamic character who changes throughout the story. She is transformed by the life and death of her father. Emily is an amiable, slender woman while her Father is alive despite her father “kept her locked up” (Gwynn 91). Her father keeps her for his own needs. The narrator remarks, “We remember the young men her father had driven away” (Faulkner 86). Once her father died, Emily clings to his memory and insists that “her father was not dead” (Faulkner 86). She persists for three days before breaking. Emily cleaves to the memory of her father because it was all she knew. She had no choice except to live under her Father’s rule, and once he was gone she longed for that which he kept from her marriage and children.

Emily’s character develops as the story progresses through the eyes of her townspeople. Homer Barron courts Emily despite his being an unsuitable match. The narrator remarks, “She carried her head high enough – even when we believed that she was fallen” (Faulkner 87). Emily is in love and looks forward to a long, happy life. She lets herself believe he could be changed. Homer Barron takes Emily as his lover and strings her along. Homer Barron leads Emily to believe he would marry her, but one day Emily saw the truth that Homer Barron “liked men and … drank with the younger men in the Elks’ Club – he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner 88). She realizes Homer will never marry her.

Something inside Emily changes. Instead of sending a servant for poison, she takes care of the errand herself. The character says, “I want the best [poison] you have. I don’t care what kind” (Faulkner 87). She demands arsenic. Her words and the circumstances of the purchase indicate she was not purchasing it for household use, but rather for more sinister purposes. Emily is a strong character who, when challenged by the druggist for the purchase, meets his gaze and doesn’t look away, but Emily stands her ground.

Emily was motivated to make a change. She goes shopping and purchases for Homer a “man’s toilet set in silver with the letters H. B. on each piece” (Faulkner 88). Emily entices her lover into her house and they talk. She realizes her fears are spot on; Homer wants to leave her. Emily snaps. She kills Homer Barron in the last act of a desperate woman in an attempt to keep the man she loves. Emily dies that night, and leaves Miss. Grierson in her place.

Miss. Grierson, the ghost of the woman, remains behind in the house the night she kills Homer Barron. Rather than see him leave her and live in disgrace, forever to be labeled the spinster old maid, Emily chooses to hold onto the past. No longer was she the slim young maid (Faulkner 88). Miss. Grierson becomes housebound, and to some extent took on the appearance of a strong man. Faulkner writes that her hair was “vigorous iron-grey, like the hair of an active man” (88). It was as if Miss. Grierson steals his essence.

Miss. Grierson is a remnant of a bygone age. Faulkner writes, “our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument” (84). The townspeople respect Miss. Grierson the way they respect the Antebellum history of the South. Although her house was one of the admirable in town while in its prime, it fell into disarray. Miss. Grierson is like her house: good of stature, but “stubborn and coquettish decay” (Faulkner 84). When the Mayor sends her a letter of taxation, she writes to him on old paper with faded ink. Miss. Grierson could not afford new things; once her Father died, “the house was all that was left to her” (Faulkner 86). Miss. Grierson lives in the past, and even “refused to let them fasten numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it” (Faulkner 89). She avoided progress of any measure because she lives in the pre-Civil War time. She is trapped in her own mind and living in a “house filled with dust and shadows” (Faulkner 89). Miss. Grierson clings to the life she lived.

The Narrator remarks, “we know that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which robbed her” (Faulkner 86). Miss. Grierson holds fast to the bandits of her life – her Father and her lover – until death takes her. Emily’s essence dies on the indented pillow next to Homer Barron; the woman who kills her lover rather than seeing him leave her. She lives in the house until her death like a phantom, protecting her secret to her end.


Works Cited Page

Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 9th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2009, 84-90.

Gywnn, Frederick. “On ‘A Rose for Emily’.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 9th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2009, 91-92.



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About Darlene Reilley

Hey, I'm Darlene, a nomadic writer and teacher. If you're looking for writing prompts, inspiration, and a fellow writer to commiserate with, you've come to the right place. If you're a reader looking for a fun mix of poetry, romance, science and fiction, you've found a buddy!
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3 Responses to Emily’s Ghost: William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

  1. Pingback: Setting Writing Goals: May 2017 | Dar Writes

  2. Feminism Through Cinema and Literature says:

    Great post! Such an insightful response. I love this tale. It is so incrdibly eerie and profound.

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