The Theme of Gossip in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (Quotes & Thematic Analysis)

William Faulkner, A Rose for Emily, gossip theme, text quotes, (thematic) literary analysis, macabre short story
A Sketch depicting gossip, by Theodor Kittelsen. A thematic analysis of William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” shows the theme of gossip, based on the narrator and the town’s perception about Emily. (Image: Public Domain)

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a short story that involves gossip as a theme. This theme is represented through the narrator’s character. The story is a collection of gossips from the narrator. Assuming that the narrator’s character is a representative of the townspeople of Jefferson, the story reflects the townspeople’s perspective about Emily. Thus, the theme of gossip is directly represented throughout the plot. This theme provides a framework for analyzing “A Rose for Emily,” such as in terms of the accuracy of what the narrator says. The short story states the townspeople’s thoughts and imaginations. Still, gossip makes “A Rose for Emily” an interesting Southern Gothic piece of literature that remains open to various interpretations. The gossip theme is a major characterizing factor in making the short story more flexible in terms of the meanings associated with its characters, plot, symbols, and other literary elements and devices.

The theme of gossip in “A Rose for Emily” provides a foundation for the development of other themes in the story. For example, the narrator’s gossip helps establish the theme of sex discrimination against the women of Jefferson. The resulting macabre nature of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” links this literary piece to the macabre works of other authors. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” showcases the theme of death, just as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” presents the theme of death and suicide. In this sense, the showcase of death makes “A Rose for Emily” a subject for analysis with reference to such other literary pieces.

Gossip about Emily’s Misfortunes (Quote #1)

Faulkner uses the narrator to relay gossip about the supposed misfortunes of Emily, such as her supposed suicidal attempt and her seeing Homer Barron. In the following quotes, the theme is explicitly presented in “A Rose for Emily” through the townspeople’s negative thoughts about Emily’s current activities:

  1. “So the next day we all said, ‘She will kill herself’; and we said it would be the best thing” (Faulkner).

Quote #1 presents the townspeople’s gossip about Emily’s speculated suicide, after they learned that she bought arsenic. This quotation shows that “A Rose for Emily” involves the theme of gossip in framing the assumed misfortune of the supposed suicide of the main character. The gossip about Emily’s suicide supports the theme of death and suicide in this Old South short story. This gossip creates a negative conception of the events in Emily’s life. The quote and the theme also establish the negativity of the townspeople in “A Rose for Emily.”

Gossip about Relationships in “A Rose for Emily” (Quotes #2, #3, and #4)

The theme of gossip is evident in how the narrator, as a representative of the townspeople, talks about Emily’s relationships with her relatives and with Homer Barron. The following quotes illustrate the gossips that these people indulge in “A Rose for Emily”:

  1. “This behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: ‘Poor Emily.’”
  2. “So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments. At first nothing happened. Then we were sure that they were to be married. . . . We were glad because the two female cousins were even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been.”
  3. “And, as we had expected all along, within three days Homer Barron was back in town. A neighbor saw the Negro man admit him at the kitchen door at dusk one evening.”

Quotes #2, #3 and #4 are focused on the theme of gossip about Emily’s relationships with her kin and with Homer Barron. The gossips in these quotes direct readers’ attention to how “A Rose for Emily” explores relationships and their development. In Quote #2, the townspeople gossip about Emily and Homer Barron’s relationship. Faulkner shows that the people believe that such a relationship is undesirable. The gossip theme is also manifested in Quote #3, which includes the townspeople’s views about Emily’s kin and her romantic relationship with Homer. For example, Emily’s cousins’ arrival sparks the townspeople’s interest. Also, the quote indicates speculation about Emily and Homer’s marriage. Quote #4 showcases the gossip theme in terms of observations about Homer’s reappearance after the cousins’ departure. These gossips reflect the significance of social perceptions in developing the plot of “A Rose for Emily.”

Gossip through the Years (Quote #5)

Faulkner shows that gossip is a theme that envelops the plot of “A Rose for Emily.” The townspeople gossip about Emily even after her death. This longitudinal thematic view is shown in the following quote:

  1. “Daily, monthly, yearly we watched the Negro grow grayer and more stooped, going in and out with the market basket.”

The theme of gossip is presented as a longitudinal series of gossips that span Emily’s life, death, and the time that follows. In Quote #5, the theme points to this longitudinal nature through Tobe and his supporting role in “A Rose for Emily.” For example, the narrator states that the townspeople keep watching and, presumably, gossiping about Tobe as he grows old while serving Emily. The quote manifests how the gossip theme extends across the generations of people in “A Rose for Emily.” These gossips reflect the events that transpire in the town of Jefferson through the years.

Explanation & Importance of the Gossip Theme in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

Gossip is an encompassing theme that frames “A Rose for Emily.” As illustrated in the quotations, this thematic perspective facilitates the narrator’s story, which is relayed to the reader as a collection of gossips. William Faulkner uses the narrator as a representative of the townspeople of Jefferson. Thus, “A Rose for Emily” is a collection of gossips from various people in the town. Based on the quotes, the theme is presented in a way that reflects the social environment that is external to Emily. She stays in her house, while gossips about her revolve around town.

The theme of gossip takes its importance from the nature of “A Rose for Emily” as a set of gossips about the life and death of Emily Grierson. The text excerpts show that Faulkner integrates this theme as an innate aspect of the short story. The cited quotes highlight some of the most notable gossips about Emily, and are some of the most significant expressions of the theme. Gossip makes “A Rose for Emily” realistic because it makes the story more open to interpretation, based on readers’ experiences and social contexts. The theme also makes this short story uncertain in terms of the accuracy of the information from the narrator, based on the assumption that gossips may add or remove pieces of information as they are relayed.

Works Cited and References

  • Barani, Forough, and Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya. “Binary Opposition, Chronology of Time and Female Identity in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature 3.2 (2014): 155-160.
  • Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” 1930. University of Virginia.
  • Getty, Laura J. “Faulkner’s a Rose for Emily.” The Explicator 63.4 (2005): 230-234.
  • Klein, Thomas. “The Ghostly Voice of Gossip in Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily.” The Explicator 65.4 (2007): 229-232.
  • McGlynn, Paul D. “The Chronology of ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Studies in Short Fiction 6.4 (1969): 461.
  • Nebeker, Helen E. “Emily’s Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 24.1 (1970): 3-13.
  • Stafford, T. J. “Tobe’s Significance in ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Modern Fiction Studies 14.4 (1968): 451-453.
  • Sullivan, Ruth. “The Narrator in ‘A Rose for Emily’.” The Journal of Narrative Technique 1.3 (1971): 159-178.