Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Uses of Symbolism in the Text

An Analysis of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Uses of Symbolism in the text

William Faulkner is one of the most famous literary giants in the 20th century English Literature. “A Rose for Emily” is one of his notable works that was published in 1930 (weebly.com). In this short story, he presents the social ambiguities and customs of a small town in the south of the 20th century. This is a story about a girl named Emily, who lived with her fiercely controlling father who died thirty years ago. The people of the city gossip a lot about Emily’s lost soul and pity her. She has been dating Mr. Homer Barron, who is working in a construction company. But some changes take place and she stopped dating him after some time. When she dies at the age of seventy-four, people breakdown into her house and find Homer’s decaying dead body and there is an imprint of another corpse beside this with a single strand of grey hair (Allen). The story is shrouded with intrigue and mysteries and symbolism which dramatically enhanced the plot of the story (Magher). This essay will discuss about the symbolism that is used in this story.

Faulkner makes the story poignant by applying symbolism throughout the story. Symbolism plays a vast role throughout the entire story. In the story, “A Rose for Emily” Miss Emily represents the southern heritage and her point of view throughout her actions (Bai et al.). Her obdurate and stubborn attitude has created a strong characteristic of herself in the story, “She carried her head high enough—even when we believed that she was fallen.” (Faulkner). She refuses to accept new ideas and the fact that time is changing. The story states the changes in the southern heritage after the civil war. In the very beginning, the story is telling about Emily’s death and that the whole town has gone to attend her funeral. Miss Emily has been considered as a “monument” of an ideal of the southern heritage because of her dogged determination (Zhao). She is being described in the story as a symbol of tradition and a dogged determination towards the changing past, “Thus she passed from generation to generation—dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.” (Faulkner). Emily’s hair is also symbolic in the story. It is a symbol of her sexuality. She has lost s many possibilities to marry because of her fiercely protective father. Her grey hair is a symbol of the death of her sexuality (Zhao). To invigorate this symbolism, the townspeople have found her grey hair strand beside the corpse of Homer who used to date Emily and “disappears” after some time, “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.” (Faulkner).

The title of the story is also symbolic. “Rose” is a symbol of love. However, the story does not manifest a real rose for Emily (Fanting). She has so many suitors at her young age, but she does not accept any of them. After meeting Homer, it seems like she has finally found her true love. But soon after “Homer himself had remarked–he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks’ Club” (Faulkner), she killed Homer. Her love and her dream of wedding are preserved in her home sealed in her room just like a rose is preserved in the memory book. The house of Emily is highly symbolic of this narrative. It refers to the inner changes in Emily. At the beginning of the story, the house looks clean and vibrant with white walls, “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires…” (Faulkner). Emily was also lively at her young age and she was as pure and clean as the white walls. As the story proceeds, the Grierson house becomes smelly, dirty, and foul just like Emily as she grows older, her inner self becomes more deranged. She not only killed her lover but also has been sleeping with the dead body in her room (Yan).

Apart from these, there are also other things such as the pocket watch, the taxes, the hair, and the stationary are also symbolical elements in this story. The Pocket watch is a symbol of time. It presents the struggles of her life and her death. Although these are the less symbolical elements in this story, the author has done a very appreciable work by presenting every small detail in this story under symbolical influences. When the Board of Aldermen members have seen Emily, they have heard the ticking of her watch which indicates her death (Fanting). It is a signal towards us that Miss Emily was always aware of the mysterious and invisible force of time. Another important symbol is her hair. The town used to tell time by watching Emily’s hair which has become turned “a vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man” (Faulkner), after her disappearance, and they have used Toby’s hair when Emily got disappeared. They have found Emily’s hair strand beside homer’s corpse which is also a time-teller, although what time it is indicating, is harder to say (Allen).  The stationary has symbolical elements which points out the tensions of the past, present, and future which the author has explored in the story (Magher). There are other things such as lime and arsenic which symbolize the creepy and petrifying environment of Miss Emily’s white house and the deaths in the story. The taxes also symbolizes both the death of Homer Barron and Miss Emily. (Yan).

In “A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner symbolizes Emily’s death as the death of the South. He uses symbols in his works in a realistic way which makes him different from his contemporary realists. Every character in this story is depicted symbolically and he emphasizes that symbolisms in a way that will help the reader to analyze the meaning of the narrative deeply.