Part of the reason Emily kills Homer Barron (a significant reason, in fact) is her loneliness and isolation from the rest of the town: "After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all. (Faulkner, 1970). Throughout the story, Emily is treated as a social pariah by the town, mostly due to her higher class status and wealth, but also because of her eccentricity; since she spends so much time alone, the town instead falls back on gossip to try to understand her, either making up stories or telling tall tales of the few times people have interacted with her. Faulkner starts us at the end of Emily’s life; we see her funeral, which “the whole town” attended (Faulkner, 1970). We are told that, unlike the expected response one would give to a dead person in your town, people attended the funeral out of curiosity, due to her being out of the public eye for about a decade. This is an early indicator of the distance that existed between the townspeople and Emily; Faulkner lets the audience know early on that Emily had no love lost for the townspeople, and that was also true for them as well.
The isolation that leads her to kill Homer Barron is exacerbated further by her own past. By starting the audience at the funeral, it is clear that Emily will die; also, they just may get to see how by the end of the story. Then, in 1894, the audience sees the defining moment of Emily’s life: it is the point when she believes she does not need to interact with society anymore. Emily puts her foot down and says “I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me” (Faulkner, 1970). Her stubbornness (far from becoming of a lady of the time period) leads her to become isolated from the rest of Jackson, her only other significant communication with the townsfolk being the annual tax bill, which is always ignored.
The entrance of Homer Barron into the town changes the dynamic of the town and Emily's life, as he and Emily begin to spend more and more time together. As the townsfolk start to see them spending time together on Sundays, it is clear that Emily is finding a remarkable kinship with him, one that is not reflected in her interactions with the rest of the town. However, Emily may have found herself being jealous of all of the times he hangs around with the other men at the Elks Club; Homer at one point states that he is "not a marrying man," which may have also set off some alarm bells for Emily, as she does not want to let go of the one person she has been able to spend a lot of time with (Faulkner, 1970). Homer is clearly Emily's first real lover, and so she grows immensely attached to him; however, Homer is not as invested in a relationship as Emily is, which seems to trigger a sense of desperation at resuming her current life as a spinster.
As the story only gives us the tale through the perspective of various townspeople, we are not privy to how deeply Homer was involved with Emily, but the aforementioned man-about-town nature of Homer leads us to believe that he was not going to stick around long. Furthermore, his popularity with the townsfolk may have instigated the decision to protect himself by distancing himself from Emily. Emily, anticipating this, ordered the poison from the druggist in order to have it for when she needed it; she decided to not let Homer break off their relationship, and chose to kill him first (Curry, 1994).
Emily's and Homer's difference in status could be closely related to the reason she is so desperate to keep him to the point of killing him. When the townspeople notice Emily and Homer spending Sunday outings together, they are shocked, because Emily is of a much higher class than Homer; normally someone of her stature would not deign to be so close to a laborer like Homer. The fact that she does is both a hint of her eccentricity and willingness to buck tradition, and of her desperation to find a man since she does not have much time left: "We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her" (Scherting 124). Emily is a recluse who has finally gotten her first taste of love; she does not want to sacrifice it for anything.
Emily's murder of Homer Barron is heavily linked to her isolation from the town, and her need to possess this person forever, as she wants him to not leave. It also closely relates to her relationship with her father, as she desperately longs for a man in her life: "The Oedipal desires expressed in Emily’s affair with Homer were never recognized by the people of Jefferson, and Emily herself was aware of them only as subconscious longings" (Scherting 124). As the story goes on, there is also mention of a potential suitor mysteriously deserting her, after potentially being the sort to stick around and marry her. Already, this sets off alarm bells in the audience’s mind, as they are aware of the implication of a dead body in Emily’s house. The questions remain, however: who or what is causing the smell? The audience is made aware of the possibility of something going terribly wrong, but they are now left to fill in the blanks in the rest of the text (Harris, 2007). In a later scene, Emily asks for arsenic, despite the constant questions and requests for clarification from the druggist. Due to the secretive and shifty nature of her request, and the cagey answer she gives the druggist when the purchase is questioned (she wants to use it ‘for rats’), it is clear she will use it to kill Homer Barron.
Emily's murder of Homer Barron is clearly due to a substantial mental illness on her part, perhaps necrophilia, and the audience sees the aftermath of the murder itself. After Emily’s passing at the end of the story, when the time comes to open the door of the upstairs bedroom which had been sealed up (the source of the smell), the narrator suddenly says that “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.” This is to foreshadow or emphasize the cold horror the audience experiences when they realize that the smell from the room comes from Emily’s former lover, Homer, whom she had killed in order to keep around forever. Her severely damaged mind is revealed all too late. (Scherling, 1980).
In killing Homer Barron and keeping his body around for awhile, it is clear that Emily is a necrophiliac. Necrophilia, the sexual attraction to dead bodies, is a rather unique mental disorder that also carries great connotations of control and domination. Emily, right from the start, is a very controlling and demanding character; she constantly insists on not needing to pay taxes, and is stubborn in her refusal to interact with the townsfolk (a situation she cannot control). To that end, Emily feels a need to desperately control her situation by any means necessary. As it pertains to Homer, and the threat of him leaving or growing bored, she decides to trap him and poison him in order to keep everything she can about him for herself. By having the physical body there, she can possess and control him; also, by being comfortable with the idea of laying in bed with a dead body, there are some necrophiliac tendencies that can be inferred from Emily's behavior (Dilworth, 1999). Therefore, Emily kills Homer Barron because of her predilection for dead bodies, as well as her desire to control him all the way to the grave. By killing Homer, Emily now has power over him.
One could argue that death is merely a symbol for Emily's madness, and not of great love for Homer. Emily is frequently shown to be reclusive, and thought to be crazy by the members of the town, showing the audience the town's perspective keeping Emily at a distance so we do not know what she is thinking. However, the ultimate motives behind her decision to kill Homer and then herself still lie in affection, even if it is an affection tinted by madness. Emily finally found someone who would be social with her, and as they spent time together (voluntarily in Homer's case, which should be remembered), they began to like each other. Since the affection was at least slightly reciprocated by Homer, it stands to reason that Emily's decision to try and keep him forever did not come from her psychosis alone, but her love for him and her desire to see the relationship continue (Curry, 1994).
In conclusion, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” tells the story of a woman's twisted love for her man, and how she wishes to extend that love to the rest of her life through killing him. Feeling abandoned and ostracized by the town, she wanted to hold onto whatever little affection she could get in her life. To that end, she kills herself and her man, a disastrous action borne of love. In this respect, she is much like the great romantic figures Romeo and Juliet, seeking to stay together until the end of their lives, even if that makes it shorter. However, the tragedy of this is that Emily forces this on Homer, in her desperation to belong.
Curry, Renee. "Gender and authorial limitation in Faulkner's `A Rose for Emily'." Mississippi Quarterly 47.2 (1994): 391. Print.
Dilworth, Thomas. "A Romance to Kill for: Homicidal Complicity in Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily'." Studies in Short Fiction 36.3 (1999): 251. Print.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1970. Print
Harris, Paul. "In Search of Dead Time: Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"." KronoScope 7.2 (2007): 169-183. Print.
Scherting, Jack. "EMILY GRIERSON'S OEDIPUS COMPLEX: MOTIF, MOTIVE, AND MEANING IN FAULKNER'S 'A ROSE FOR EMILY'." Studies in Short Fiction 17.4 (1980): 397. Print.