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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 Emilys character. The external characteristics of Miss Emily’s house parallel her physical ppearance 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 ormer 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 rom 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 eterioration 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 ontributed 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 Homer Baron. Finally, the townspeople’s descriptions of both house and occupant reveal a common intractable arrogance.

At one point the house is described as stubborn (315) as if it were ignoring the surrounding decay. Similarly, Miss Emily proudly overlooks the deterioration of her once-grand residence. This motif recurs as she denies her father’s death, refuses to discuss or pay taxes, ignores town gossip about her being a fallen woman, (315) and does not tell the druggist why she is purchasing arsenic. Both the house and Miss Emily become traps for that strongest representative of the twentieth entury, Homer Barron, laborer, outsider, confirmed bachelor.

Just as the house seems to reject progress and updating, so does Miss Emily, until both of them become decaying anachronisms. Through descriptions of the house that resemble descriptions and characteristics of Miss Emily Grierson, A Rose for Emily emphasizes the way that beauty and elegance can become grotesquely distorted through neglect, pride and lack of love. In this story, the house deteriorates for forty years until it becomes ugly; Miss Emily’s physical and emotional condition dissipate in a similar manner.

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