Home » The Central Theme and Symbolism of A Rose for Emily

The Central Theme and Symbolism of A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner’s central theme in the story “A Rose For Emily” is to “let go of the past. ” Emily Grierson has a tendency to cling to the past and has a reluctance to be independent. Faulkner uses symbols throughout the story to cloak an almost allegorical correlation to the reconstruction period of the South. Even these symbols are open to interpretation; they are the heart and soul of the story. With the literal meaning of Faulkners story implies many different conclusions, it is primarily the psychological and symbolic aspects, which give the story meaning. Miss Emily cannot accept change to any degree.

She is unable to ameliorate as the rest of the society does. The Old South is becoming the New South, and yet Emily still has a Negro man helping around the house. Her house “had once been white” and sits on what “had once been” a most select street, however now it is surrounded by cotton gins, garages, and gasoline pumps. This scene creates a sense of the house being “an eyesore among eyesores” (469). Another example of Miss Emily’s ability to refuse change is when she does not allow a house number to be placed on her house when the town receives free postal service. Emily’s father denies her the freedom to establish relationships with men.

When Homer dies, the townspeople stop visiting Emily to a degree that they avoid her. When she encounters people in town, she only talks about trivial matters and never returns their greeting. Emily also rejects change when she destroys the flowers brought to her by Homer’s man, going against the traditional role of women as nurturers.

Miss Emily’s rejection of change is largely due to the fact that her father has created a space for his daughter in which she never has to do anything and can, therefore, remain in stasis. Her father also forbids her from engaging with men, making it so that she cannot reform relationships or create new ones based on love, lust or any other emotions. Additionally, when Homer dies and Emily is left alone, her isolation means that others avoid her so as to not be the first to bring up his death, furthering Emily’s sense of isolation even more.

In fact, Emily was denied her rose. A rose if often referred to as a symbol of everlasting love between a man and a woman. Since her father denies her the chance to court men, she has no chance to even fall in love. “We had long thought of them as tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the blackflung front door” (471). This picture presents a sense of him being the master while Miss Emily is the slave. The fact that Miss Emily is dressed in white proves her purity.

Another point is how Emily is in the background, further proving her submission towards her father. The horsewhip symbolizes the power Miss Emily’s father has over her. Her father is domineering and controlling and sadly, that is all she knows. It is no surprise when Miss Emily’s father dies, she does not know what to do, “being left alone, and a pauper” (471). The corpse of her father remains in the house for three days while Miss Emily refuses to accept the fact that he is actually dead. The narrator’s description of her at the funeral is evidence of sympathy the inhabitants feel toward her; “We did not say she was crazy then.

We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will” (471). The crayon portrait resting on an easel before the fireplace reveals the fact that Emilys father still has a powerful control over her. Colonel Satoris, a member of the Old South, pardons Miss Emily’s taxes shortly after her father dies. He produces a fib that the town owes Miss Emily’s father money, so it wouldn’t seem like he has made a charitable attempt to help Emily’s financial woes.

Colonel Satoris also sends his children to her house for china painting lessons. After the old generation is replaced by the new, the city begins to ask Miss Emily for her tax money. The city authorities decide to call on her formally. Miss Emily comes to the door carrying a cane with a tarnished gold head and a long gold chain. This gold symbolizes her strength and makes her appear to be “above the law. ” When the diplomats describe her eyes, “two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough,” (470) this further reveals inability to change.

Miss Emily tells the two diplomats to see Colonel Satoris about her taxes, although he has been deceased for the past ten years. She refuses them from her house, and wasnt asked for her taxes again. The descendants of Colonel Satoris children lost the desire for tradition, so Miss Emily no longer gave any china painting lessons. The summer after her fathers death, Emily breaks free from the confines of her fathers emotional prison. Homer Barron becomes Miss Emilys new beau and the towns ladies disapprove. The Griersons are a prominent, well-respected southern family.

The towns ladies believe that a real lady, obligated to noblesse oblige , would not have the temerity to date a Yankee. Also, it is well known that Emilys father held older Southern virtues. If he had known Emily is courting a Yankee, he would have been furious. This makes the reader feel that Emily was dating a Yankee to show a side of rebellion in which she possesses. Although there are quite a few oppositions as to why Miss Emily should not be courting Homer, she holds her head high. The townspeople know that Homer Barron is not the marrying type and is even a homosexual, so the residents hold respect and sympathy for Emily.

And as soon as the old people said, Poor Emily, the whispering began. Do you suppose its really so? they said to one another. Of course it is. What else could… This behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: Poor Emily (472). Homer travels a lot, being a day laborer, and only travels to the town of Jefferson for the contract of paving sidewalks. Miss Emily knows that Homer Barron will leave her for a labor contract in another town, or for another love. I want some arsenic.

The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag. Why, of course, the druggist said. If thats what you want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for. Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up. The Negro delivery boy brought her the package; the druggist didnt come back. When she opened the package at home there was written on the box, under the skull and bones: For rats (473). The members of the town are unaware of how the poison is going to be used.

They figure that Emily was going to kill her self, however that does not happen. Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people (473). The cousins of Miss Emily come to visit her after being written by the ministers wife. Miss Emily is seen buying a mans toilet set with Homer Barrons initials, as well as a nightshirt, and a complete outfit for a man. So the town begins to think Miss Emily and Homer were finally getting married. Homer however left town, and is not seen again until Miss Emilys cousins left Jefferson to go home.

One of Miss Emilys neighbors see Homer Barron being admitted into the home by the Negro man, and is never seen again. After Homers disappearance, the town did not see Miss Emily for quite some time. When they finally see her again, her hair has turned iron gray, and she has gained a lot of weight. She can often be seen sitting at one of the downstairs windows, and apparently no longer inhabits the top floor of the house. For many years, no one has been into her home. After the disappearance of Homer Barron, many of Miss Emilys neighbors began to complain about a bad smell coming from her house.

The complaints were given to an eighty-year old member of the Old South named Judge Stevens. The Board of Aldermen meet, and the newer generation of people offered the idea of giving Miss Emily a date in which her house must be clean. However, since Judge Stevens knew it is of bad taste to tell a lady to her face that her house smells bad, he sends four men to sneak onto Miss Emilys property during the night and sprinkle lime. After the lime had been spread around Miss Emilys house, the smell goes away. When Miss Emily finally passes away, the whole town attends her funeral.

And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson. Alive Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town (469). When the ladies come in the front door for the funeral, the Negro admits them. Shortly after, the Negro left the house and is never seen or heard from again. A few of the older men of Jefferson dress in their Confederate uniforms for Emilys funeral, and talk of the older times.

They speak of how they courted and danced with Miss Emily when they were younger, although that is not the truth. Once Miss Emily is properly buried, the towns members decided to open the room in the top of the house, which no one has seen in over forty years. A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the mans toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured.

Among them lay a collar and tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface of a pale crescent in the dust. Upon a chair hung the suit, carefully folded; beneath it the two mute shoes and discarded socks. The man himself lay in bed (475). At once, everyone knows that it is Homer Barron. He looks like he had died in an embrace, however the long time he had been there had made his body deteriorated to the point where he was inextricable in the bed. Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head.

One of us lifted something from it, leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long stand of iron gray hair (475). Miss Emily has apparently poisoned Homer for fear of him leaving her. She loved him so much, that she would have rather him lay dead in her house than to have a broken-heart. Instead of grieving as a normal person would, Miss Emily turns into a psychotic crazed lover. For many years, Emily must have lain next to him in an embrace. She wanted to preserve her love, and this further proves her unwillingness to change.

She could not control Homer’s love for another person, and this infuriated her. She wanted to live in the past where she was young and beautiful, while he remained by her side forever.

Miss Emily had bought the poison a year ago (475). The fact that she bought it long ago shows how much thought she has put into this act. She was not willing to kill him suddenly, but rather slowly poison him until he died. After his death she still could not let go of the past. She knew that before long time would ravage her body and make her ugly; this is why she wanted Homer to lie dead in the house with her forever.

Miss Emily had been a person who did not believe in change or revolution. She was a person that would always be stuck in the past. It is very clear from her actions and dialogue, but it’s also made obvious by the narration of the story itself.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.