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Themes And Symbolism In William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily

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In “A Rose for Emily”, William Faulkner tells a story that revolves around the life and death of Emily Grierson. Miss Emily is an elderly lady who is secluded from the rest of the town. Her overbearing father died around thirty years ago and since his death, she has not been able to find her own ground. Due to this, Grierson got stuck in her own timeframe. So much so that she kept her deceased father’s body for a short period after his passing. Throughout the entire story, it encompasses Emily’s whole life from young to her own passing. We learn as the story goes on that she was considered a member of the higher class in Jefferson, the town that she lived in. When she dies at seventy-four years old, the whole town goes to her funeral. “The men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (Faulkner 1). Overtime, Grierson’s house became the most hideous looking home on the street, though her street was once considered the admirable in the city. The house used to appear sophisticated with a bright, white paint job and scrolled balconies but was now covered in filth and decay. Throughout the story, Miss Emily’s house becomes a symbolic feature in the story. William Faulkner brilliantly displays his ideas on paper and allows us as readers to understand his themes and symbolism, while keeping us intrigued even after the story has ended.

“A Rose for Emily” contains many distinctive, but I personally believe isolation is one of the main ones portrayed. The people in Miss Emily’s city chat about her and pities her absent soul. The theme of isolation infiltrates the entire narrative as the story follows her life. Emily is originally isolated from suitors by her father and from a high volume of the society by her higher status. This, consequently, resorts to self-imposed isolation. As a young woman, Emily lived alone with her father and never appeared to involve herself in relationships with the community because “the Griersons held themselves a little too high” (Faulkner 2). However, following the death of her father, Emily begins to voluntarily isolate herself from civilization as she starts to appear in public even more rarely. Her isolation becomes interrupted when she begins to date a young, unmarried man named Homer Barron. Barron works at the construction company that is paving the sidewalks on her street. As they begin riding buggies and spending more time together, the townspeople begin to gossip even more. Transitioning into Faulkner begins the story by describing Miss Emily’s house, one which was once lavish, is now aged and dusty. “It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, [Now] an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner 1). The house itself stands for tradition and wraps back around to isolation. The tradition being that it has aged, and instead of moving along with the rebuilding of the South, it has stayed the same. Isolation resembling a house that was once something beautiful and appreciated, was now covered in dirt and mold. “A Rose for Emily” showcases old versus new and traditional versus nontraditional, which is taken to light from the story’s plot, characters, and setting.

Briefly mentioning other characters then Miss Emily characters in the paragraph above, Emily Grierson is the protagonist. Miss Emily is a round character, though we do not learn everything about her from the beginning. By the end of the story, however, we as readers gain a much better understanding of this complicated, old lady. When the story starts to ventures out into Miss Emily’s past, it is understood that her family is still highly valued and respected in the town. In such extreme that when she walks into a room, people are expected to stand in admiration of her. Her father, who sheltered her significantly, had once donated a great amount of money to the own, pardoning Miss Emily of any upcoming tax payments. Again, the familiar theme of old versus new is seen when Miss Emily is requested to provide a tax payment. She refuses in such a way that it seems the question should not have even been directed towards her. “I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner 1). No further questioning is taken since they are aware this lady and her family is a monument in this town. Other characters like Homer Barron, Tobe and Judge Stevens would personally be considered flat characters. These characters were uncomplicated and did not undergo much evaluation. Although, each character had their own unique effect on the plot which made the story more appreciated and attention-grabbing.

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The climax of this short story was intense. Emily Grierson was not maturing and changing, but the world around her is. After she and Barron start dating, she goes against the basic foundation and fundamentals that her father raised her on. As the story unfolds, Homer and Emily start to see each other less frequently which leads to him breaking up with her. This upsets Emily since she is not done with him and greatly wants to marry him. However, Homer was not the marrying type and did not have this same desire. Therefore, the only way she knew how to keep him was to murder him and that is exactly what she did. “Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner 5). Emily laid next to Homer’s lifeless, decaying body after poisoning him. For her, this was her way of stopping time, once again living in her own timeframe. In return, she knew that she could stay with Homer forever. The climax contained the murder of Homer and Emily killing herself as well, but it also reflected on the theme of isolation and encompassed how Grierson’s personality influenced her actions throughout the whole story.

William Faulkner was a brilliant Southern writer, who lived from 1897-1962. He was born in New Albany, Mississippi which is also where the majority of his works are based in. Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature and the 1955 and 1963 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He wrote 19 novels, all staying in the three genres of fiction, poetry and Southern gothic. He is amazing at explaining his characters thoroughly and giving the reader a better sense of understanding. An example of this being, “A small, fat woman, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony can with a tarnished gold head” (Faulkner 1). Faulkner has often been titled one of the most essential writers in the history of American literature (Goodreads). This remains true by his famous short stories that revolve around themes relating to heartache, loss, love and everything in between.

“A Rose for Emily” is a popular and valued story that opened up many eyes. Digging into the setting, we see a major evolution period for the South in general, including Grierson and the townspeople. This story took place around the same timeframe as slavery coming to an end. The middle class was shifting into the more predominant class and society as a whole was becoming less exclusive. As mentioned earlier, the Grierson family was one of high status so they most likely owned slaves. While the townspeople seemed to understand and adapt to this new way of life, Emily did not. “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Faulkner 1). It all comes back to her father because after he dies, things continuously keep changing like the New South emerging. Miss Emily knew how to follow but did not know how to lead.

In conclusion, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is filled with character, charisma and symbolism. The townsfolk all seemed to agree that Miss Emily is trapped in her own form of time with no way out. I believe she poisoned Homer Barron because she needed and craved a male in her life to take the lead and make decisions. Once her father was gone, Miss Emily saw it fit to turn this duty over to Barron. Was the act of assassinating him out of affection and love or utter selfishness? Mentally and emotionally unstable, she could not be trusted to make her own rational decisions. Maybe this was her rational decision because she never wanted to lose him. Whatever the reason may be, she found a way to hold onto her ‘rose’, Homer Barron, forever and William Faulkner gave us this story to also love and remember forever.

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Themes And Symbolism In William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 26, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/themes-and-symbolism-in-william-faulkners-a-rose-for-emily/
“Themes And Symbolism In William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/themes-and-symbolism-in-william-faulkners-a-rose-for-emily/
Themes And Symbolism In William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/themes-and-symbolism-in-william-faulkners-a-rose-for-emily/> [Accessed 26 Sept. 2022].
Themes And Symbolism In William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2022 Sept 26]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/themes-and-symbolism-in-william-faulkners-a-rose-for-emily/
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