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Literary Criticism of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”


During his lifetime and after his death, William Faulkner was widely discussed both by the public and scholars. The latter’s contributions to the reception of this author were primarily connected to the discussion of the characters in his novels and stories, and, in the case of “A Rose for Emily,” it was guided by societal perceptions of the time (Heller). The arguments concerning the importance of the narrative for historical accuracy alongside its moral underpinning were extensive, but contemporary researchers tend to see these components in a more positive light compared to their predecessors (Xia 930). Therefore, the difference in the attitudes towards Faulkner and, more specifically, the mentioned piece in the past and present is reflected by the shift in critics’ views under the influence of evolving norms.

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The Author

In general, the work of William Faulkner at various times was examined from the standpoint of his innovative ideas. He was born in 1897 in Oxford, and the place significantly impacted the setting and themes of his stories of this modernist and gothic novelist famous in these genres (Xia 929). Nevertheless, the author was initially not taken seriously by scholars of the past as his writing was oriented on the controversy around the conflicting Southern traditions and the Northern ways (Xia 929). Moreover, his activity was considered eccentric, and his novels and other pieces were interpreted as those depicting a fantastic world in its adversity rather than reality (Heller). The critics obsessively wrote about Faulkner’s focus on people’s inability to change their worldviews and expressed their concerns regarding the alleged protests against the North (Heller). They emphasized the main themes, including the old and the new in human life and shifting societal norms. Over time, they changed to the role of individuals because people’s identity became the new concern of present-day scholars (Schweizer 100). Thus, the examination of “A Rose for Emily” can be performed from this perspective.

The Story

The criticism of the story was primarily based on the problems of the social class structure, discrimination, societal norms, and individual roles. These themes, the opposition between people and changes, and the mentioned issues were evolving, as follows from the works of different critics. For instance, in the past, they paid particular attention to the stereotypes, such as aristocrats and nameless citizens as the main characters of stories (Heller). In contrast, contemporary researchers highlight the significance of attitudes attributed to social classes rather than the fact of belonging to them (Xia 931). In turn, discriminating against one or another category of citizens was viewed as a result of their position, whereas, currently, it is more of the corresponding ideals one supports (Xia 931; Schweizer 103). In both situations, individualistic approaches to literary criticism of the piece became apparent, and the change can be explained as the need to comply with the time due to the emergence of new attitudes towards appropriateness.


The Author

When Faulkner was alive, the reception of his work was not entirely positive as the critics did not appreciate his short stories the way they liked the first novels. This outcome was conditional upon the novelist’s initial pieces being based on personal experience, which did not produce any controversies in readers’ opinions (Heller). Meanwhile, the consequent attempts to continue pursuing his literary endeavors did as Faulkner devoted himself to examining more critical subjects, which were unacceptable at the time. For example, the arrogance of nobility in his writings did not contribute to the emergence of sympathy towards the characters as it was apparently intended (Heller; Xia 932). The public opinion, was similar to that of the critics, and people mostly ignored the novels and stories written by Faulkner (Heller). The change happened when he decided to make corrections to the works. Therefore, it can be concluded that Faulkner was well-known during his lifetime but is even more popular among both scholars and readers in modernity as all of his novels and stories are presently appreciated.

The Story

The story’s reception followed the patterns described above and, thus, was initially rejected by people. It was originally published in 1930 in “The Forum,” an American magazine, but the recognition of this piece came years later due to the novelty of its themes (Schweizer 100). This piece contained numerous controversies regarding individuals’ positions in society based on the old social structure substituted by the new approach widely discussed and reproached by the town citizens (Xia 932). In addition, the unwillingness to accept it was underpinned by the ambiguity of gender roles in the past events followed by the transformation of society (Schweizer 104). Hence, “A Rose for Emily” became popular and well-known only after the author’s death when its relation to the historical events and their outcomes could be traced.


The Author

After Faulkner’s death, his already positive literary reputation was promoted by the growing respect for his contributions in the field. As follows from the critics’ opinions in the past, he was mainly regarded as an author depicting the events from the perspective of the Southern and Northern values, presenting the principal conflict of the time (Heller). Consequently, over the past century, the favorable response of readers underpinned Faulkner’s popularity, boosted by the increasing historical significance of his works (Xia 933). This circumstance contributes to the stance that he is more respected by scholars and citizens of the present-day world than those of the previous generations. Thus, since the time Faulkner died until today, the shift in individual perceptions of this author was a gradual increase in the attention towards him due to the focus on the occasions shaping society.

The Story

After the initial publication of “A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner, the story’s reputation was also gradually improved under the influence of external circumstances. Thus, it was originally claimed to be a controversial narrative about the seeming impossibility of the Southerners to accept the new order by sticking to the representatives of the past, such as Emily (Heller). Nevertheless, this issue was resolved by the emergence of notions determining the value of this work, including gender roles and the oppression of minorities, which are seen in the publications of modern critics (Schweizer 104; 109). Hence, the perceptions were modified, and respect for this piece was ensured by applying its aspects to the critical societal challenges. It means that the story is more interesting for contemporary readers than the people of the past, and this outcome is conditional upon the change of the environment.

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In conclusion, the varying critics’ opinions on William Faulkner and, specifically, his work “A Rose for Emily” were shaped under the influence of historical trends. The criticism was based on the novelty of issues that the citizens were unwilling to accept and the conflicting views of different social classes. Thus, the initial neglect of the piece was explained by these factors, whereas its recognition alongside the respect for its creator emerged when the historical significance of the work was confirmed and supported by readers.

Works Cited

Heller, Terry. “The Telltale Hair: A Critical Study of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” Coe College, n.d., Web.

Schweizer, Justine. “‘A Rose for Emily’: The Dichotomy of a Rose.” Confetti – A World Literatures and Cultures Journal, 2018, pp. 100-116. Web.

Xia, H. O. U. “A Study of Class Discrimination in A Rose for Emily From the Perspective of Western Marxist Criticism.” Journal of Literature and Art Studies, vol. 9, no. 9, 2019, pp. 929-934.

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