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. 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 to 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). Just as the house seems to reject progress and updating so does Emily. 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. This dreams belong to women, who like Emily, have yet to experience true love for themselves. 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 to find 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. So, 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 th narrator offers this story as a rose for Emily. As a lady 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 (Madden 1896) 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 world all of these things make them feel superior to her, and also to the past, which she represents. (Brooks, Warren 159) Finally, the whip symbolizes the strictness and control that Emily's father had over her.
There are several examples of how her father's control over her is implied. The townspeople pictured Miss Emily's a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddle d 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 (Powell). 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. In reading, William Faulkner's short story, A Rose For Emily, there are many symbols and each one has a special meaning to be determined by the reader. I know in reading it for myself I found that it could take many new forms.