Characterization in A Rose For Emily

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

'A Rose for Emily' is a Southern Gothic short story by William Faulkner. This haunting story follows the life of Miss Emily Grierson, a doomed woman who is unable to let go of her past...literally. This lesson will focus on the characterization in the story.

'A Rose for Emily'

'A Rose for Emily' by William Faulkner was published in 1930. Though it was his first story to be published nationally (in The Forum), it has become a staple of American Literature high schools and college courses. 'A Rose for Emily' explores what happens when someone, in this case a rich but sheltered and likely insane young woman, refuses to change with the times.

William Faulkner
William Faulkner

Brief Synopsis

The Grierson family of Jefferson, Mississippi were once wealthy, but are now left with a once-grand crumbling house and not much money. The last two Griersons, Emily and her father, live in this house and rarely associate with the other people in the town, who seem to have nothing better to do than watch their formerly rich neighbors.

The story really begins when Miss Emily's father dies. Emily refuses to acknowledge it, and the townspeople almost have to force their way in to retrieve his body. Shortly after, Emily begins seeing a man named Homer Barron, who is in town working in construction. The nosy neighbors, horrified at the thought of Emily marrying Homer, call her cousins.

Miss Emily goes into a drug store and buys rat poison, and the townspeople speculate that she is going to kill herself. Next, she is seen buying men's clothing, and the rumor is that she and Homer are getting married. The cousins arrive, and Homer leaves. Then Homer comes back into town and is last seen entering Emily's house.

Years pass. Emily's hair turns grey, and she leaves the house less and less. When Emily finally dies, the townspeople enter the house. They find Emily's body in a downstairs room. Much more disturbing, they find the skeleton of Homer Barron in an upstairs bedroom. On the pillow next to him, they find one long grey hair.

Crumbling mansion in Mississippi
An old mansion in Mississippi

Major Characters in 'A Rose for Emily'

Emily Grierson spends the beginning of her life controlled by her self-centered father. She is forced to play the part of a spinster Southern Belle. She's poverty-stricken and lonely. Her only interactions with the townspeople come when she teaches their daughters to paint china. When her first and only love spurns her, Emily loses her grip on sanity and murders him…and then sleeps next to his corpse for decades.

Emily's father, Mr. Grierson, is not as visual of a character as his daughter or Homer, but he still plays a vital role in this short story. He is a very selfish man who believes no one is good enough to associate with him…or his daughter.

Homer Barron is not loved by the people of the town. He is presumably murdered by Miss Emily, most likely because, as he tells the townspeople, he is not a 'marrying man'. In fact, Homer likes to spend his time drinking with the young men of the town, and it is strongly insinuated that he is gay.

Tobe is Emily's servant, who spends his life caring for Emily. He is loyal to his mistress until her death. Once the townspeople arrive at the Grierson's crumbling mansion, though, he vanishes before they can ask him any questions.

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