Everyone has dust in his or her house; it coats the television, the computer, the wood, the floors - practically every surface of the house. But, in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily", dust also coats the surface of a dead body. Faulkner tells the tale of Miss Emily, a decaying Southern woman, whose inability to accept change causes her to fall. This inability causes Miss Emily to stoop below her respected title in order to hold onto the past. A tale of horror unfolds through Faulkner's use of foreshadowing in "A Rose for Emily".
Throughout the story, Faulkner uses the sense of smell to foreshadow a decaying body. At the beginning of the story, a deputation of the Board of Aldermen meets with Miss Emily to discuss her tax situation. Upon their entrance, the narrator describes the house as smelling of "dust and disuse - a close, dank smell" (701). The mention of smell is frequent in the story; the place where its foreshadowing is strongest occurs right after the meeting with the deputation. "So she vanquished them ... about the smell. That was ... a short time after her sweetheart ... had deserted her. ... after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all" (702). The fact that a dead body is staring the reader in the face cannot be seen; that is why other elements of foreshadowing are scattered throughout the story to help the reader solve the puzzle.
Another one of those foreshadowing elements is decay. Faulkner uses the element of decay to foreshadow the discovery of Homer's body in the wedding chamber. In the same instance of the tax meeting, dust rises around the men when they sit down on the cracked leather couch. The ominous spirit the dust holds as it spins "with slow motes in the single sunray" (701) is chilling. Dust is the prominent companionship of Homer in the wedding chamber, and the dust that coats the house foreshadows that. Upon entering the room, Miss Emily is described as looking bloated and worn from her years of life. She is decaying, and this small snippet of foreshadowing is extremely significant in understanding her part as the only true character in the story. Towards the end of the story, the narrator states that "she died ...with...her grey head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight" (710). Little does the reader know that this one line foreshadows the essence of decay in the wedding chamber.
One of the best ways Faulkner foreshadows the ominous unfolding of events is through the women of the town and their best Southern trait: gossip. He uses their gossip to foreshadow the preparation of Homer's death. It is through gossip that we learn about the rat poison. The story around town is that she told a druggist she wanted some poison, and, when asked what for, she just stared at him. When she opened the package at home, the box said " 'For rats' " (704) where the druggist had written it. This is where the reader learns what she uses to kill Homer; he or she just does not know it yet. Another stream of gossip that swept through the small town foreshadows the design of the wedding chamber. "We learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweler's and ordered a man's toilet set in silver, with the letters H.B. on each piece. Two days later we learned that she had bought a complete outfit of men's clothing, including a nightshirt, ..." (705). This ominous gossip is especially chilling since, upon seeing the wedding chamber at the end of the story through the narrator's eyes, the items that Miss Emily purchased are the furnishings and adornment in the wedding chamber.
"A Rose for Emily" is a truly riveting tale that is full of foreshadowing that the reader does not catch until the end of the story; the foreshadowing Faulkner uses is genius and chilling to the heart. The wedding chamber's description at the end of the tale is magnificent, and it contains every single element of foreshadowing used throughout the story. The reader sees that Homer is dead and has been for a very long time; he or she can assume that Miss Emily is the one who killed him, but he or she does not know until the very last paragraph. "Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair" (710). Faulkner left the most ominous piece of foreshadowing, the iron-gray hair, for the last three words of his tale.
- Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Literature for Composition, 8th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet et al. New York: Longman, 2007.