This month’s story, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” first published in 1930, is a defining example of Southern Gothic writing. It is also the first story Faulkner ever published in a national magazine. For those of you familiar with Faulkner’s work, the story takes place in the fictional city of Jefferson, Mississippi, in the fictional Yoknapatawapha County, which serves as the setting of almost all of Faulkner’s vast oeuvre. However, in this story Jefferson is more than just a setting. It is rare to find a story of only seven pages that transmits such a total sense of a place and its customs, but I would argue that this one qualifies. Here we have a dark little pill of a piece that neatly encapsulates the peculiar insularity of a small Southern town in the early part of the 20th century, its unspoken codes of conduct, as well as the pockets of insanity it will allow certain citizens of good breeding to cultivate.

In addition to being a superior example of Southern Gothic, this story is also a horror story of sorts, following in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe. It is worth considering the ways by which Faulkner, being the literary master craftsman that he is, generates the climate of small-town intrigue that persists throughout the story. What is the horrifying revelation at the story’s conclusion?

Here are some additional questions to guide your reading and our discussion next Tuesday:

Who is the narrator of this story? What is the perspective on the events that occur?

What is noblesse oblige in this context? What impact does it have on the ways in which Emily Grierson acts and is treated?

How is gender presented here? What kind of power do women have in dealing with a situation as unique as Emily’s, in a small town of this type?

How does the town’s attitude towards Emily change over the generations?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about these questions and the others that arise during our meeting. I hope you enjoy reading this work by one of the foremost writers in American literary history.

Andrew Bennett

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