The setting in “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner creates a portrait of a small town with just enough people to keep it busy, yet everyone knows everyone’s business. In the setting of this story, Miss Emily has an estate that is often in dire need of organization, cleaning, and care beyond what is donated to her in the form of “contracts for paving sidewalks,” by the town (Faulker, 320). With the death of her father and the horrible smell that haunted her home, the towns people leapt to assumption when she went to the town pharmacist to buy rat poison. “Arsenic,” Miss Emily said. ‘Is that a good one” (Faulkner, 320). Miss Emily may not have thought about how it appeared to the pharmacist or later the townspeople in relation to her house, but the two elements in Faulkner’s story create an interesting push in the storyline. No one thought anything deplorable was about to take place since Miss Emily’s house was deplorable. At the very least the only thought that came to mind was “she will kill herself,” which brought a collective sigh of relief with it (Faulkner, 321). After all that she had been through, the grief-stricken Miss Emily was never on their minds a murderer, yet it was the perfect set up to get away with murder.
Writers such as Edgar Allen Poe create suspense in their stories by slipping in similar story elements but since the genre lets readers know something horrible is to be expected, elements such as buying arsenic are clues instead of a backdrop in the setting to a story otherwise disarming in its thriller surprise. Faulkner sets the tone in his story with Miss Emily’s house being “an eyesore among eyesores,” with a history of deplorable smells and conditions, excused for having rats of the rodent kind, never considering the rat of large human male kind that deceives Miss Emily (Faulkner, 317). The imagination of this story exists in the details of what is really going on with Miss Emily, not the unknowing townspeople. A slow, southern, laid back southern town, Faulkner writes a setting that would “create in the reader’s visual imagination the illusion of a solid world in which the story takes place,” (Charters, 1055). Readers sense the townspeople’s empathy for Miss Emily through their reactions to her environment and create the conditions that make buying rat poison a benign act. Kate Messner said “Just like real life, fictional worlds operate consistently within a spectrum of physical and societal rules (Messner, Ted Speaks). The town where Miss Emily lives operates with its own town rules that include taking care of those they perceive to be less fortunate or down on their luck, as outside of her home continued to be cared for and her taxes paid for decades because it was the right thing to do in their town. It was with this mentality of the setting that the murder could take place and a rotting corpse was undetected without any hint of what the smell actually could be. In any other setting, such as a modern setting of a Gillian Flynn novel the smell would instantly be connected to rotting flesh. Setting is not a diorama, but another character in the story that has to work well with the characters, the plot, the theme, and the imagination of the author.
Charters, Ann. The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s
Press, 2015. Print.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann
Charters. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Print.
Messner, Kate. How To Build A Fictional World. Ted Speaks Originals. Web. November