Sometimes in life, the suppression of one’s ambitions combined with the fear of loneliness can lead to a clinging of the familiar. This is evident in William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” in which an emotionally unstable Emily Grierson poisons her lover, Homer Barron, to prevent him from deserting her. Because of the Griersons’ high social status, the townspeople keep up with Emily’s every move although she had become a recluse in the years following her oppressive father’s death.
With an overall forthright tone, Faulkner creates a surprise ending by using an unconventional plot structure and conveys the dangerous extremes one may resort to in order for love. At first glance, the ending of “A Rose for Emily” may come as a shock due to the unchronological plot, but in hindsight there are many clues that Faulkner uses to suggest an unfortunate resolution.
The surprise, of course, is the revelation of Emily’s necrophilic tendency to embrace the corpse of Homer. The first ominous hint toward Emily’s crime is when a “smell developed” two years “after her father’s death and a short time after her sweetheart…deserted her. ” This evokes a feeling of curiosity as to what could be causing such a stench in Emily’s home that would attract the neighbors’ attention.
Later, when her father died, the doctors had to “[try] to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. ” Even though her selfish father drove away all of her suitors just so he could keep Emily as a maid, “with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her. ” Because her father was all she had known, Emily refused to let him go even though he robbed her of any opportunity at love. Her clinging to Mr. Grierson after his death strongly foreshadows her future clinging to Homer after she murders him. The next clue involves Emily’s purchasing of arsenic from a druggist. When he informs her that the
law requires a reason for the purchase, “Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye”—daring him to try forcing the reason from her. This suspicious action evokes a feeling of suspense as Miss Emily’s intentions are still unclear but obviously harmful. Had she planned to use the arsenic only “for rats,” why would she withhold her reason from the druggist?
One final hint is given after Emily’s visiting relatives leave the town and “within three days Homer Barron was back in town. ” He is admitted into Emily’s house and the narrator remarks “that was the last we saw of Homer Barron.
” Once more, apprehensiveness is apparent as the narrator’s statement is usually uttered only when a person is presumed to have died. These hints would certainly reveal the surprise prematurely had they been told in a conventional, chronological plot.
If Faulkner presented them in order—first Emily’s clinging to Mr. Grierson after his death, her purchasing of arsenic, Homer’s disappearance into Emily’s home, and then the acrid smell emanating from her home—the conclusion would be far more predictable. ` Through the use of an unchronological, unorthodox plot structure, Faulkner is able to astound the reader with an appalling resolution.
Although many ominous hints add to the suspense, the resolution remains unknown. Had the events unfolded in consecutive time, the surprise factor of the conclusion would not have been as effective. Emily’s embracing of the corpse of her dead lover shows her mental instability as she resists letting go of what is familiar to her, just as she did with her father. A morbid story with an unconventional plot structure, “A Rose for Emily” provides insight into how a fear of loneliness can drastically affect one’s actions and mental state.