A Rose Sub-rosa for Emily

A Rose Sub-rosa for Emily

A Story by Just Nikki

A Research Paper I wrote for my English 102 Instructor Regena Dossett at FSCC, November 2009


     Great American author, William Faulkner, enlisted much more within the mysterious petals of his rose for Emily Grierson in his short story “A Rose for Emily”. Many speculate what exactly the rose within the title means, since there is no actual rose within the story; expert critics have debated this answer for decades. Nevertheless, Faulkner ignores society’s general, love-oriented view in the meaning of a rose as he punctuates his own public statement. Emily’s only rose is that of secrecy from her creator and author, William Faulkner, who carefully conceals her disturbing secrets and constructs them sub-rosa.

     William Faulkner is said to be “one of the greatest American novelists of the Twentieth Century” (Masterplots,1). He was born September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, enlisted in the Canadian Royal Air Force by 1918, and later married Estelle Franklyn (Foster, 1). Faulkner published many works over about thirty-six years, won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, and later died in 1962. Literary critic Thomas Foster writes, “For the most part, William Faulkner was successful during his lifetime in achieving his stated goal of hiding his personal life from public view and presenting the novels as his public statement” (Foster, 1). This fact becomes clear as Emily’s rose is further defined as Faulkner’s public statement of secrecy.

     In “A Rose for Emily”, Emily’s father disrupts her success in marrying a suitor, although after his death, Emily meets Homer Barron; however, Barron is not the marrying type and mysteriously disappears. After Emily’s death, the townspeople find a rose-colored sanctuary possessing the remains of Homer Barron as well as evidence suggesting that Emily habitually lay next to his remains in the bed prior to her death; oddly, the Narrator of the story never indicates whether Emily is responsible for the death of Mr. Barron. Clearly, William Faulkner deliberately conceals Emily’s secret of murdering Homer Barron from the Narrator of the story, as well as the reader, vicariously through this detail.

     The practice of keeping secrets is often symbolized by a rose coined sub-rosa. Robert Hendrickson explains the Roman Mythology linked origin of the term sub-rosa:

“According to legend, the Greek god of silence, Harpocrates, stumbled upon Venus while she was making love and Cupid, the goddess of love‘s son bribed him to keep quiet about the affair by giving him the first rose ever created. This story made the rose the emblem of silence, and since the fifth century B.C. a rose carved on the ceilings of dining and drawing rooms where European diplomats gathered enjoined all present to observe secrecy about any matter discussed sub- rosa, or ‘under the rose’” (Hendrickson, 799).

     William Faulkner keeps Emily’s secrets sub-rosa, therefore the rose in the title, “A Rose for Emily”, is his gift of secrecy for his character: Emily Grierson. “The rose represents secrecy: the confidential relationship between the author and his character with all of the privileged information withheld,” supports Laura Getty (Getty, 232).

     Moreover, William Faulkner even internally stresses this strict secrecy among other characters in “A Rose for Emily”. After the townspeople feel Emily has purchased poison to kill herself, they send the Baptist Minister to councel her, but he upholds the author’s mysterious goal of secrecy: “He would never divulge what happened during that interview” (Roberts, 92). Clearly, Faulkner speaks his mind through his Baptist Minister about how he feels toward his vow of secrecy for Emily’s dirty laundry.

     Faulkner goes on to describe the room Homer Barron’s body was kept in as he writes, “A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the table, upon the delicate array of crystal” (Roberts, 94). Some feel that this rose-colored sanctuary, that is scarcely preserving the beloved body, represents the rose in question. Elizabeth Kurtz argues, “Roses are given as tokens of love, or at least deep friendship. Still today, the young and romantic press a rose between the pages of some seldom used book, to dry and preserve the token” (Kurtz, 40). However, the more important detail of the rose-colored bedroom is exactly when in the story that we learn what is in the rose colored room: “No one is allowed inside the bedroom until both former occupants are dead, and the full understanding of Emily‘s state of mind remains known only to Emily and her author” (Getty, 232). Faulkner again conceals secrets for Emily by withholding them under rose-oriented details, but most importantly, he waits until Emily and Mr. Barron have died. One can expect flowers, maybe even roses, placed over their caskets and graves; Again, Faulkner entertains a theme of secrecy.

     William Faulkner bestows a rose of secrecy to his character, Emily Grierson, in “A Rose for Emily” which reveals a link to Roman Mythology and a much more deeper meaning to itself as the only rose for Emily. Not only are Emily’s secrets kept, but Faulkner’s public statement is made. The two bind together, and “the story is, after all, a literary construct, and it is constructed under the title, or in this case sub-rosa” (Getty, 231). Therefore, just as cupid asked Harpocrates for silence with a rose and European diplomats observed secrecy “under the rose”, William Faulkner constructs a rose for Emily within the title itself and demonstrates a public statement of secrecy below it.

Works Cited


Foster, Thomas C. “William Faulkner.” Research Guide to Biography & Criticism 1. (1985): 421-425. Book

     Collection: Nonfiction. EBSCO. Web. 22 Oct. 2009


Getty, Laura J. “Faulkner‘s A ROSE FOR EMILY.” Explicator 63.4 (2005): 230-234. Academic Search Premier.

     EBSCO. Web. 22 Oct. 2009

Hendrickson, Robert. "sub rosa." The Facts On File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. Fourth. 1. New

     York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2008. Print.

Kurtz, Elizabeth Carney. “Faulkner‘s A ROSE FOR EMILY.” Explicator 44.2 (1986): 40. Academic Search

      Premier. EBSCO. Web. 22 Oct. 2009.

Roberts, Edgar V. "A Rose for Emily." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ninth. 1. New York,

      NY: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Print.

Witkoski, Michael. “William Faulkner.” Masterplots Complete 2002. CD-ROM. Pasadena, Ca: Salem, 2000.

© 2009 Just Nikki

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Added on December 6, 2009


Just Nikki
Just Nikki

Gulf Shores, AL

What's YOUR Writing Style? You are a descriptive writer. An avid reader of Robert Frost, perhaps, you LOVE to use flowery words and use the paper and pen as your canvas.. more..

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