A Rose for Emily: Symbolism

Tracy Lancaster English 132 S. Higgins July,06 2009 In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the symbolism shows more about the character than is detailed by the author. Authors generally use symbolism as a way to represent the intangible qualities of the characters, places, and events in their work. Symbolism helps to indicate several things in a story. In “A Rose for Emily” Faulkner uses symbolism to define and characterize Emily Grierson. There are many symbols in this story each one has a special meaning to be determined by the reader.

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Therefore each time the story is read it can take on a new form, which will make this story lasts for generations to come The title “A Rose for Emily” holds a lot of symbolism in itself. When asked about the title Faulkner replied “… this was a salute, just as if you were to make a gesture… to a woman you would hand a rose” Faulkner Interview, 1955 . The title “A Rose for Emily” symbolizes a gift to Emily Grierson. According rose is a gift of love from the town who viewed Emily as a fallen monument and offered her a rose as a symbol of love and a token of their affection and admiration for her.

The unnamed narrator, who symbolizes the town or least a representative voice from it, relates key moments in Emily s life. Because the narrator never speaks in first person pronoun “I”, one can believe that the narrator represents the townspeople and their views toward Emily and her life, to include the death of her father, and her brief relationship with a Yankee. Beyond the literal level of Emily’s narrative, the story also represents the symbolic changes in the South after the civil war.

Another example of symbolism is Emily s house, it represents the Old South and like Miss Emily, it is the only one of its kind left to face a modern generation and like Ms. Emily it does not change with the times. Without the proper care the house needs, in time it becomes ugly to look at, “only Miss Emily’s was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps – an eyesore among eyesores” (Akers71) . According to West, it is shown through the use of the words “stubborn and coquettish” (Akers148 )that we irst recognize the house as a representation of Emily herself. The appearance of the house symbolizes the neglect of both itself as well as its owner. Both the house and Emily lack the love and care that is needed to flourish. As the environment around them shift into the modern times, the southern belle and her home remain deep-rooted in the old south. The house and Emily are both trapped in time. The characteristics of Miss Emily’s house, just as her physical appearance, are brought about by years of neglect.

For example, the house is located in what used to be a prominent neighborhood, but now the neighborhood is more modernized , but Emily’s house still remains in the midst of it all untouched by the changing times. The house is now “an eyesore among eyesores” (Akers71 ). Through lack of attention the house has deteriorated from a beautiful estate, to an ugly shack. The symbolism of the decaying house parallels Emily’s physical deterioration and demonstrates her mental decline. The house and Emily suffer from lack of genuine love and care.

Just as the house seems to reject development and change, so does Emily. Another case of symbolism can be seen in Mrs. Emily herself, “she is a combination of idol and scapegoat for the community…. she represents something in the past of the community an idea of past The town feel admiration for her, but they also feel they are better than she is. They feel that because she is out of touch with reality and she does not live life as they do, that they are in some way superior to her. Emily is becoming obsolete just as her china painting lessons.

Like the appearance of her house, Emily has also become an eyesore. For example, she is described as a “fallen monument” (Akers71) to symbolize her former beauty and her later ugliness, “fallen because she has shown herself susceptible to death and decay after all” (Akers149) . Like the house, Emily has lost her beauty. Once a beautiful woman to look at, she now looks “bloated like a body long submerged in motionless water”(Akers 73) . Emily has not always looked this way. She used to be fair looking. but now she wears black clothes, much like a mourner’s style of dress.

Both house and occupant have suffered the negative effects of time and neglect”A Rose for Emily” emphasizes the way that beauty and grace can become distorted through neglect and lack of love. The symbolism and Faulkner’s descriptions of the decaying house, coincide with Miss Emily’s physical and emotional decay, and also emphasize her mental degeneration. Miss Emily’s decaying house, not only lacks genuine love and care, but so does she in her adult life as well as her childhood. Emily meets Homer Barron, a symbol of progression and change. Once Homer Barron enters Miss Emily’s house, and her life, he is bound to her forever without escape.

She murders him and preserves his body much as one would a dead rose. She loves Homer and preserves his love the only way she knows how, and that is by killing him. William Van O Connor says different. He feels the murder of Homer represents the “destruction of the old order by the new”(Akers 152) , the new order is what Homer represents in Emily s life and the old order is the old south. When Emily kills Homer she puts him in an embracing position so that she can still feel loved every night. She attempts to keep him just as one would press a rose in a book to keep as a remembrance.

She tries to preserve him just as girls will a rose even after the petals have dried and the flower has withered. Emily keeps Homer as her rose even after his death and when Homer dies, her rose wilts. There is a lot of symbolism surrounding the roses in this story. Although the word rose only appears in the title, the symbolism of the rose surfaces throughout the entire story. The rose itself to some may symbolize romance and love. The romance and love that Emily has yet to experience in her life. Roses can be dried out to preserve their beauty, that’s what Emily does with Homer when she kills him and sleeps with his dead, decaying, body.

The rose can also been seen as a gift of love. Love to Emily from the townspeople. They view Emily as a “fallen monument” (Akers 71 ), and offer her a rose, the traditional symbol of love, as a token of their affection and admiration. beautiful, soft, unique, special and can be a symbol for love, yet through all that beauty and splendor, it has thorns. Emily is a victim of the past. Emily dwells in the past daily, she fails to look at the realities of the present. In some ways, “A Rose for Emily” can be looked upon as a commentary on love in her life. Her father’s love protects her and cares for her, but drives away all the men in her life.

Homer gives her an object for affection, but he does not return the love she gives him. With that in mind, the ending isn’t so strange. She loves the only way she knows how, the way of the rose… beautiful on the outside, and soft in places, but sharp, harsh, and painful at the stem. Through the years, there have been many different interpretations of William Faulkner s “A Rose for Emily”. Critics such as Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner who feel the story, is one of a lonely woman who has a problem distinguishing between “illusion and reality”(Gwynn,Blotner 158 ).

It is no doubt that Emily is indeed stuck in the past, literally as well as mentally. She refuses to change with the times. But also there is Lionel Trilling, who feels the story is just one of “a woman who has killed her lover” 147 and gotten away with it. In any case, “A Rose for Emily” is a timeless story that shows how in time beauty and elegance can become repulsive and distorted through neglect and lack of love. This story is Faulkner’s way of paying tribute to Miss Emily Grierson and the sad, lonely life she lead.

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