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A Rose for Emily Authors traditionally use symbolism as a way to represent the sometimes-intangible qualities of the characters, places and events in their work. In the short story, A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner uses symbolic elements to define and characterize Miss Emily Grierson. William Faulkner's peculiar story, A Rose for Emily, portrays an insane young woman, Emily Grierson, who is isolated and displaced from society because of her father's attitude and restriction as she was growing up. Society regards her as a monument and the focal point of town interest because her family had a renowned southern reputation in town during the post civil war. Faulkner uses symbolism through Miss Emily, her house, and Homer to show the contrast between past and present.
Faulkner uses symbolism to compare the Grierson house with Emily's life. This is emphasized throughout by the symbolism of the decaying house, which parallels Miss Emily's physical deterioration and demonstrates her mental disintegration. Emily's life, like the house, which decays around her, suffers from lack of genuine love and care. The eternal characteristics of Miss Emily's house parallel her physical appearance to show the changes brought about by years of neglect. For example, the house is located in what was once a prominent neighborhood that has deteriorated. Originally white and decorated in the heavenly lightsome style of an earlier time, the house has become an eyesore among eyesores (Faulkner 204).
Through lack of attention, the house has advanced from a beautiful representative of quality to an ugly holdover from another era. Similarly, Miss Emily has become an eyesore for instance; she is described as a fallen monument (Faulkner 204) symbolizing her former beauty and later ugliness. Like the house, she has fallen from grace. Once she had been a slender figure in white (Faulkner 207) later she is obese and bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water with eyes lost in the fatty ridges of her face (Faulkner 205).
Both the house and Miss Emily have suffered the ravages of time and neglect. Just as the house is described as smelled of dust and disuse and the leather cracked (Faulkner 205) this could also describe Miss Emily, a small, fat woman in black with a voice that is dry and cold (Faulkner 205) as if is she is rusty from disuse. Both the house and Miss Emily reveal a common stubborn arrogance. Even being left alone, and a pauper, and humanized (Faulkner 207) Miss Emily held herself a little too high for what she was. Likewise, just as Emily held herself a little high the house is presented as lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps (Faulkner 204). Emily does it in the same way, as the house seems to reject progress and updating.
Another characteristic using symbolism in the story is the Rose. Although the rose only directly appears in the title, the rose surfaces throughout the story as a symbol. The rose symbolizes dreams of romance and lovers. These dreams belong to women, who like Emily, but have to experience true love for them. One symbol is Emily who represents a piece of history and tradition in the town of Jefferson. Faulkner connects Emily and her house in symbolizing the last remaining remnant of the old southern gentry in their society.
For example, Emily refused to pay taxes based on an agreement made with Colonel Sartoris, who had been dead for ten years. She then refused to acknowledge the death of Colonel Sartoris, demonstrating her disturbing denial to leave the past. Faulkner's portrayal of the house demonstrates deterioration of Emily along with her lifestyle, as both Emily and her house have become eyesores among eyesores. Her house represents neglect because of Emily's obsession with the past and even smelled of dust and disuse close, dank smell. Emily uses her house as a retreat to the past away from the demands of the society. The past is also exemplified through Emily's servant, and the older members of society including Judge Stevens and the old Board of Alderman.
The older members of society convinced the town to excuse Miss Emily from her noncompliance with taxes, and her horrid smelling, dilapidated residence. They saw her as a "fallen monument" of southern aristocracy. Faulkner represents the modern society and lifestyle using Homer Barron and the narrator. The narrator symbolizes the town view of the mysterious Emily Grierson in the and eventually society's opinion of the mentally disturbed Miss Emily as the book develops. Homer Barron is a northerner who has come down to help build and modernize the town, and thus symbolizes the change and transition into a contemporary society.
Homer probably never really loved Emily, even though Emily had a growing obsession with him. This might have been the reason for his later bound entrapment into Miss Emily's world. Faulkner used Homer as a victim of Miss Emily's fixation with the past in showing the clash between past and present. Moreover, after Homer's death, Miss Emily's love prevents her from acknowledging his death.
However, Homer does allow Miss Emily to move a step past her fathers death to find love. Thus, the clash results in Homer were becoming a part of the past, being trapped inside the deteriorating abode and Miss Emily finding someone to replace her father and alleviate the denying misconception of her fathers death. The house even exhibited some change as the room where Homer was found, was predominantly red symbolizing her love for him. Throughout the life of Emily Grierson, she remains locked up, never experiencing love from anyone but her father. The domineering attitude of Emily's father keeps her to himself, inside the house, alone until his death. This is Emily's chance for freedom and love.
She takes a lover, Homer Barron. However, Homer is not the marrying kind and may have threatened to leave Miss Emily. In desperation, she murders him, thus ending what little life she has. Emily can never marry nor take another lover. Therefore, she clings to the corpse of her dead lover and lives as a recluse. In her dreary existence, there was only one bright spot, one Rose.
This was Homer, of whom society has robbed her. Like a wilted flower, she keeps his body, forever. Like a dried flower, it reminds her of the joy she had in her otherwise empty life. The rose is a symbol of the age of romance. Perhaps the narrator offers this story as A Rose for Emily.
As a woman might press a rose between the pages of a history of the South, she keeps her own personal rose, her lover, preserved in the bridal chamber where a rose color pervades everything. Miss Emily's rose is ironically symbolic because her lover was a modern Yankee. Emily, also could be seen as a symbol to the dying Southern genteel. She was fast becoming obsolete just as the china-painting lesson did. The new generation became the backbone and the spirit of the town, and the painting pupils grew up and fell away and did not send their children to her with boxes of color and tedious brushes and pictures cut from the ladies magazines (Faulkner 208). The townspeople had no use for Miss Emily anymore or her Southern traditions.
In fact, she is hopelessly out of touch with the modern worldly of these things make them feel superior to her, and to the past, which she represents. Finally, the whip symbolizes the strictness and control that Emily's father had over her. There are several examples of how her fathers control over her is implied. The townspeople pictured Miss Emily's a slender figure in white in the background, her father a straddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door (Faulkner 207), is a menacing dark image assuming the dominant front position. His turned back suggest a disregard for her. The back-flung door invites suitors in, but only those who meet Mr.
Grierson standards. Unfortunately, those standards are unattainable. Miss Emily is obedient allowing him to have control. Her father runs all of her suitors off that come to call.
Even in his death, the power that he had over her did not go away. She refused to let his body be removed from the house insisting that he was not dead. Faulkner's use of symbolism in the characters and setting and distinct descriptions, allow the reader to enjoy a tale of two worlds colliding to create an equivocal but shocking finale. He contrasts Emily and house with the town and Homer, and brings them together through a twisted love and friendship. He uses the past to show the present using the history of Emily and her father to transform Miss Emily into a confused and disturbed victim of denial.
In reading, William Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily it is possible to find many symbols and each one has a special meaning to be determined by the reader. This allows the reader to understand the story in a unique way and helps to create exclusive impression. Bibliography: Muller, Gil. Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. Explicator 33 (1975): 79. Clausius, Claudia.
A Rose for Emily: The Faulknerian Construction of Meaning. Approaches to Teaching Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Ed. Stephen Hahn and Arthur F. Kinney. New York: MLA, 1996. 144 - 49.
Jacobs, John T. Ironic Allusions in 'A Rose for Emily. Notes on Mississippi Writers 14 (1982): 77 - 79.
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