“For Rats” – William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily”

It was almost exactly 80 years ago that this story was published, on April 30th, 1931. It was actually a story I was supposed to read last week as part of my short story reading project (I’m a little behind). It’s a story whose reputation precedes it, and I was looking forward to reading my first William Faulkner in years. It left me melancholy and not a little confused.

It’s the story of the pitiable life – and death – of one Emily Grierson, a relic from a time gone by. A scion of a Southern family rich in aristocratic privilege, she seemed to never have had A Life of Her Own.  Her treatment by town officials and other citizens was full of deference and laissez faire, perhaps adding to and fixing her future as a recluse and a woman out of time and place.

As a reader, I felt great sympathy for her, and feel the same for those people in society of any time and place like her. Perhaps as an illustration of Faulkner’s mastery, I was able to feel this sympathy in spite of not really knowing that much about her character. Was she crazy? I don’t know. Probably. Was she evil? I don’t know. Possibly. Is it her fault that she was probably crazy and possibly evil? I don’t think so.

A couple “literary coincidences” (borrowing this term from Darlyn at Your Move, Dickens) accompanied my reading of this tale. For one thing, it’s told out of order. It starts with her funeral but then hops around her prior life before finally alighting again after her death. This is remarkable to me, for at the same time, this week I’ve also been rereading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five whose main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time” – a phenomenon which perhaps can best be explained by the Tralfamadorians, but essentially means switching to and fro between different moments of one’s lifetime (more on Slaughterhouse Five when I finish my reread).

The other coincidence is my recent reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, which also features a character who never leaves his house and is the inspiration for wild speculation and rumor amongst his fellow citizens. Can you say “Boo Radley?”

I don’t know what else to say about this story without giving away too much of the plot details – or the fate of Homer Barron. So… Just read it yourself! It’s only about eight pages long, and is available for free in many places on the Internet. Here for one.

Also, Faulkner himself once wrote about his intended meaning for the story. You can read his brief “explanation” at: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb05/workshops/fiction/faulkner5.asp

Have you read any Faulkner? Is this short story representative of his other work? What else of his would you recommend that I read?

William Faulkner

Sent from my iPad


  1. Jillian ♣ said,

    April 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I’ve read this story. (I loved it!) It’s far more translatable than his novel (The Sound and the Fury), which is the only other work I’ve read by Faulkner. But it is representative of his love of writing in spatters, rather than chronologically, and about the Southern culture in mid-twentieth century America.

    I love Faulkner’s style. He creates an impression for you to piece together, which is awesome.


    • Jay said,

      April 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Someday I should read The Sound and the Fury (seems it’s on every one of those “100 books you have to read” lists). I liked A Rose for Emily too, even if it was quite creepy. Do you suppose it was Norman Bates’ favorite short story? 😉


  2. April 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I disliked ‘The Sound and the Fury’ (TSATF) but I really enjoyed ‘As I Lay Dying.’

    It was obvious to me that TSATF was a failed novel attempt (four times) just shoved together. Faulkner’s lack of clues regarding the characters made the book insanely frustrating. As I Lay Dying was of the same ilk, but much easier to follow (though you should always bring a notepad to write clues down as you read Faulkner).


    • re-existence is futile said,

      June 6, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      completely disagree with the comment on `the sound and the fury’, it is one of the best books ever written, but also one of the most challenging


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