“A Rose for Emily” is one of the most widely known and talked about short stories by William Faulkner; it revolves around the life and death of Emily Grierson, an impoverished spinster living in a Southern town in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. The narrator, who speaks in a “we” voice and appears to represent the town’s people, tells us the story of a woman, who was left a pauper after the death of her father, who drove away all his daughter’s suitors, considering no one being good enough. Emily lives in isolation in her old gloomy house, having almost no contact with the rest of the town’s community, provoking even more interest to her death and the shocking discovery of her former lover’s decomposing body in a locked upstairs room of her house (“Explanation of: 'A Rose for Emily' by William Faulkner”). Faulkner follows the tradition of gothic literature in America, particularly Sothern gothic, to criticize the social class structure in the South using such elements as traditional gothic setting, irony, and grotesque.
Setting is an important element in Sothern gothic as it generally foreshadows the events with its gloomy atmosphere. The stories are generally set on the outskirts of society in old, run down, family mansions. In “A Rose for Emily,” the decay of the family is shown through the changes in the family house; Faulkner describes it as “big, squarish frame house that had once been white, set on what had once been most select street”, “an eyesore among eyesores”; it is ironically mimicking its owner Emily Grierson, lifting its lonely “stubborn and coquettish decay” above the rest of the surroundings (“Explanation”).
Faulkner employs irony, which is one of the defining aspects of southern writing, to criticize the values and the class system of American South. In “A Rose for Emily,” a well-to-do, good all Southerner, a relic of a once great family, representative of the upper class of the social structure, whose social standing is enough to keep her from having to pay taxes; Emily Grierson commits a shocking and monstrous crime and loses her mind (“Explanation”). The bitter irony of the story is that it is told by the narrator, who is one of the town’s people, meaning that this person clearly knows about the bizarre finding in Miss Emily’s bedroom, nevertheless the narrator’s tone is full of respect towards her, with just an occasional remark about how the Griersons “held themselves a little too high for what they really were”.
The most important aspect of southern gothic is grotesque. The author uses this gothic element to shock the reader and expose the underlying rotting nature of southern social class structure. “A Rose for Emily,” told through the eyes of an entire southern town, portrays a woman, driven to the very edge of the mental state by controlling father and then, after her father’s