Miss Emily Grierson, the primary character in William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” is introduced as a woman who has never been provided an opportunity to become comfortable or familiar with the world outside of her father’s old-world ideals. Even after her father dies, Miss Emily is still treated as outside in her town, always watched and never interacted with, except for the outsider Homer Barron who seems to date her for a little while. Eventually, though, even Homer disappears and Miss Emily is seen to grow old along with her house, still isolated and aloof from her community. As the story comes to a close, it is finally understood why Miss Emily was never able to rejoin society following Homer’s disappearance, but the fact that her isolation was not unusual to the townspeople speaks eloquently of her outsider status.
Miss Emily’s outsider status from her community begins with her father’s insistence that she is of a higher class than her neighbors, making them all unsuitable for interaction with her. “None of the young men were quite good enough to Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau; Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door” (437). Thus, Miss Emily “got to be thirty and was still single” (437) without having formed any real attachment to the rest of her society. Although she is seen to be the most high-class person in the town, she is an outsider because she is not able to overcome the distinctions put in place by her father.
Miss Emily’s status as outside is also emphasized in her odd reactions to various events, such as in the instance of her father’s death. “Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body” (437). While her reaction was considered strange and unusual, it was attributed to her status as an outsider, indicating she must have different means of coping with things than they did. “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will” (437). In this statement, it is revealed that the townspeople understand Miss Emily’s need to cling to what is familiar and normal to her even when that is no longer possible.
Her one chance at escaping this outsider status comes in her courtship with Homer Barron. Rumors had been flying about town that Miss Emily was going to marry the handsome, lively man from the North, himself an outsider of another type within this town. Unfortunately, he does not measure up to the standards of the South any more than any of the townspeople did when Miss Emily was younger, so he is chased off by the woman’s distant relations. “So we were not surprised when Homer Barron … was gone. We were a little disappointed that there was not a public blowing-off, but we believed that he had gone on to prepare for Miss Emily’s coming, or to give her a chance to get rid of the cousins” (440-41). As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Miss Emily brought Homer Barron into her world in the only way she knew how. She could not bear to remain an outsider for the rest of her life, completely alone. When the men of the town broke through the door of the upstairs bedroom following Miss Emily’s death, they describe a grisly scene. “The body had once lain in the attitude of an embrace, … what was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust” (443).
Miss Emily lived her life as an outsider, deliberately taking the life of another to ensure he never left her again as her only means of ensuring companionship in her loneliness. However, in the end, the townspeople seem to have realized a depth of sympathy for the old woman, purposely not investigating the house until after she’d been honorably laid to rest and then telling her story in an oddly respectful manner that enables others to feel for her as well.
Faulker, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Anthology of American Literature – 8th Edition. Ed. McMichael, George, James S. Leonard, Bill Lyne, Anne-Marie Mallon, and Verner D. Mitchell. Boston: Prentice-Hall, 2004. 433-444.