A Rose for Emily




The Symbolism and Characterization in "A Rose for Emily" by
William Faulkner


In the short story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, the macabre
ending is foreshadowed by the story\'s opening with Miss Emily Grierson\'s
death and funeral. The bizarre outcome is further emphasized throughout by
the symbolism of the decaying house, which parallels Miss Emily\'s physical
deterioration and demonstrates her ultimate mental disintegration. Her life,
like the house which decays around her, suffers from lack of genuine love
and care.
The author also uses characterization to reveal the character of Miss
Emily. He expresses the content of her character through physical
description, through her actions, words, and feelings, through a narrator\'s
direct comments about the character\'s nature, and through the actions,
words, and feelings, of other characters. The unnamed narrator, that it can
be identified as "the town" or at least a representative voice from it (notice
the frequent use of "we"), in a seemingly haphazard manner relates key
moments in Emily\'s life that help to the explore to Emily’s character.
The external characteristics of Miss Emily\'s house parallel her physical
appearance to show the transformation 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
heavily lightsome style" (Faulkner 315) of an earlier time, the house has
become "an eyesore among eyesores" (315). Through lack of attention, the
house has evolved from a beautiful representative of quality to an ugly
holdover from another era. Similarly, Miss Emily has become an eyesore; for
example, she is first described as a "fallen monument" (315) to suggest her
former grandeur and her later grotesqueness. Like the house, she has lost
her beauty. Once she had been "a slender figure in white" (317); later she is
obese and "bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water with
eyes lost in the fatty ridges of her face" (315). Both house and occupant
have suffered the ravages of time and neglect.
The interior of the house also parallels Miss Emily\'s increasing
degeneration and the growing sense of sadness that accompanies such
decay. Initially, all that can be seen of the inside of the house is "a dim hall
from which a staircase mounted into still more shadow" with the house
smelling of "dust and disuse" (315). The darkness and the smell of the house
connect with Miss Emily, "a small, fat woman in black" with a voice that is
"dry and cold" (315) as if it were dark and dusty from disuse like the house.
The similarity between the inside of the house and Miss Emily extends to the
"tarnished gilt easel" with the portrait of her father and Miss Emily "leaning
on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head" (315). Inside and out, both
the building and the body in which Miss Emily live are in a state of
deterioration like tarnished metal.
Miss Emily lives for many years as a recluse, someone who has
withdrawn from a community to live in seclusion. "No visitor had passed
since she ceased giving china-painting lessons eight or ten years earlier"
(315). Faulkner characterizes Miss Emily\'s attempt to remove herself from
society through her actions. "After her father\'s death she went out very
little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all" (316).
The death of her father and the shattered relationship with her sweetheart
contributed to her seclusion.
Though her father was responsible for her becoming a recluse, her
pride also contributed to her seclusion. "None of the young men were quite
good enough for Miss Emily and such" (317). Faulkner uses the feelings of
other characters to show Miss Emily\'s pride. Her pride has kept her from
socializing with other members of the community thus reinforcing her
solitary “She carried her head high enough--even when she believed that
she was fallen” (318). But Miss Emily\'s father is still responsible for her being
a hermit. "We remembered all the young men her father had driven away..."
(317). If he had not refuse the men who wanted to go out with Miss Emily,
she may have not gone crazy.
Miss Emily may have wanted seclusion, but her heart lingered for
companionship. Her desire for love and companionship drove her to murder
Homer Baron. She knew her intentions when she bought the arsenic poison.
"Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head"
(320). Her deepest feelings and hidden longings were lying in the bed. Miss
Emily\'s pride resulted in the shocking murder of