Faulkner Interpretation

William Faulkner in his short story, A Rose for Emily, deploys gothic elements in portraying the life of an old woman Emily who lived in Jefferson. Faulkner’s conflicting story of Emily depicts an old woman who had difficulties in understanding the disturbing truth that she was hiding at. Emily, as the author illustrates, is a poor woman whose life has no meaning at all. A part from being locked up by her father, she finds a lover who ultimately wanted to quit her thereby prompting her to murder him. Faulkner’s deploys the elements of imposing decrepit house, the decayed corpse, and the mysterious secret horrors as driving forces for the story’s plot.

As Faulkner (1) points out, Faulkner’s deployment of these gothic elements is not to illustrate Emily’s reclusive lifestyle, but rather to denote her historical background as have been the contributing causes of her conflicting lifestyle. For instance, the elements have been successful in denoting Emily’s unwillingness to recognize that things were changing over time. This is clearly evident in Faulkner’s story as these elements form the base of its plots and more so establishes its atmosphere.   

The imposing decrepit house in Faulkner’s story plots Emily, just like the house, as having been the last obstacle to modernization which was taking place in the town of Jefferson.  According to the author, the house which Emily lived was once the most beautiful home in the entire Jefferson town. He states, “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavenly lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been the most select street.” As Emily grew older, the same was happening with the house which now became the eyesore within the entire town. Faulkner William (86) notes that the house inhibited faded paints and unkempt yard making it to start smelling.

Significantly, is Faulkner’s portrayal of old men of Jefferson in his book as not telling Emily about the odor smelling of her house, but rather curing it themselves as argued by Judge Steven in the story “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad (p.86)?” Additionally, Emily does not only dismiss modern ideas, but she is even contempt by the house and would not leave it due to the irritating bad smell. “Miss Emily sat in it (house), the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol,” (Faulkner William, 86). Therefore, in this aspect, the element of imposing decrepit house is not only the portion of the plot, but rather the conflict in itself (Meyer, 73). Just as Emily, it was also seen as the monument to the past.

On the other hand, the element of the decayed corpse is employed in the story not only to create dramatic tension in order to advance the story, but to emphasize on the plot and establish the atmosphere over which acceptance of change was inevitable to Emily. According to Faulkner William (88), Miss Emily did not only poison and killed her lover Homer Barron, but she also kept his rotting corpse in her bedroom thereby sleeping with it for many years. This scene plots a necrophilia trend that was initiated by Grierson, Emily’s father, and also became the manner in which she wanted to control her relationship.

According to Faulkner, it is because Mr. Grierson had greatly limited Emily’s social wisdom that after his death, Emily used necrophilia as means of her despair in longing for human love.  As Faulkner (1) notes, necrophilia normally describe a powerful tool of desiring to use sexual attraction as means of controlling another. Therefore, the failure by Emily to use traditional ways in expressing her desire to control Homer leaves her with an option of killing him thereby taking control over him. Faulkner points out that by Emily refusing to give up his father’s death, and more significantly, clinking to Homer’s dead body, she wanted to transfer this restrictive control over human life.

For instance, the length of time for which the decayed corpse is plotted in the story as have been sexually utilized by Emily is not only to emphasize on the incident, but rather to create the environment under which Emily lived. Faulkner points out that it took the townspeople long enough to find out, “a long strand of iron-gray hair, lying on the pillow next to what was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt.” This aristocratic nature of Emily shows how her background formed the basis of how she conflicted with life.

Moreover, Faulkner uses the element of mysterious secret horror in creating a seamless whole that makes the plot too intriguing for the reader not to stop reading. According to Faulkner (1), the mysterious secret horror in the short story conveys how Faulkner struggled to maintain tradition even in the face of radical change. His use of gothic frightening scenario of mysterious secret horror accurately suited the literature tradition at the early twentieth century where gothic style was incorporated to create breathing reading experience. Shem notes that Faulkner, just like other Southern Gothic writers, deployed the element of Gothicism in exploring the antisocial behaviors such as those of Emily which were against the confining social codes.


In conclusion, the main reason why William Faulkner uses the imposing decrepit house, the decayed corpse, and the mysterious secret horrors gothic elements is to help him in denoting how Emily clinks to traditions even in terms of radical change. It has been noted that failure to accept generational change can make the most valuable living monuments such as Emily to become obstacle to change. Therefore, it is important for people not to conform to their tradition in modernization period as they would be cut off from the outside world.

Order now

Related essays