Symbolism in A Rose For Emily Essay

Symbolism In A Rose For Emily Essay

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William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" draws a vivid picture of the south of the United States the turn of the century. It begins with the narrator mentioning the funeral of the eponymous Miss Emily. Faulkner's style in revealing the consequences of Emily Grierson's life and the shocking revelations of her death is very interesting.

The narrative structure of the piece is interesting in that it does not follow a typical chronological order. The details of the story are revealed slowly by Faulkner as he allows the sense of suspicion to grow before revealing the murder of the Homer Barron by Emily.

The narrator begins his chronology with the funereal of Emily. The narrator is not named and whilst seeming omniscient in his knowledge of events is clearly identified as a member of the community which surrounds Emily. The use of the pronoun "we" when referring to the townsfolk, as in:

"We did not say she is crazy then"

The narrator moves from the funeral back in time to the occasion when the City Authorities attempt to revoke her tax exempt status. The narrative then flows backwards and forwards through time revealing significant details of Emily's life and preparing the reader for the shock of Homer's murder. The narrative is also split into five section, this allows for shifts in time and reveals images of Emily at various stages of her life.

The fact that Emily is tax exempt is an example of the authority she possesses over the townsfolk even though she is distant from them. Faulkner uses language that creates the view of Emily of an institution. As early as the stories second line, Emily is described as a "fallen monument". She is also described in paragraph three as "... a tradition, a duty, and a care ;a sort of hereditary obligation in the town"

She seems to be the product of an earlier era and surrounds herself with reminders of the past. After the death of her father , his portrait is given prominence in her house, and even rests above her coffin. The image of Emily trying to hold back the encroachment of new generations is shown in the description of her house which is built in the style of the 1870's despite being surrounded by new buildings. Faulkner writes:

"Only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps"

(ARE pg. 427 HIF)

When Faulkner describes Emily as an old woman, he mentions a gold watch she wears around her neck. The watch descends so low on the chain it is obscured by her belt. Although the watch is unseen its constant ticking is audible:

"...they could hear the invisible watch ticking at the end of the gold chain"

(ARE pg. 427 HIF)

This serves as a symbol of Emily's reluctance to observe the passing of time as generations pass by, and the world changes.

Emily seems to cling to a by gone era when her family were given prominence. The authority to which I have referred, which Emily exerts over the townsfolk seems to be the residue of the time when her family had genuine power. This authority is never more evident than on the occasion when Emily buys arsenic from the druggist. It takes very few words for her to persuade him to sell her arsenic. He is prepared to ignore laws to satisfy Emily. This serves as a precursor to the discovery of her suitor Homer Barron's body in her bed some 40 years after his disappearance. The murder of Barron and his position in a marital bed is the ultimate attempt by Emily to halt the onslaught of time, and the dangers it brings.

Another event which foreshadows the demise of Homer is the death of Emily's father. Emily's reluctance to give up the body of her father mirrors the death of Homer. Her refusal to accept the reality of his death is another example of Emily's fear of the passage of time.

Throughout the piece Faulkner offers the reader images of Decay as generations succeed each other. Both Emily and her house are shown as decayed as if the great lie that has lain undiscovered in her bed has infected the house. Even the duplicitous Gardener's voice is described as having:-

"... grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse."

It is like an old disused mechanism which is decayed with age. These images of decay reach their pinnacle with the gruesome corpse of Homer dressed for bed.

Faulkner's narrative uses the story of Emily Grierson to examine the working of the local community. The townsfolk seem to obey a sort of hierarchy within which Emily is highly placed. Both the city authorities and the minister are shown to be subservient to her at different times in the story. Emily is identified as an object of furious gossip, her courtship of Homer being of considerable interest to the townspeople. It is as if her story were a legend passed on through generations. This corresponds with the chronological shift as the reader is guided to different parts in Emily's life. The details of the legend are collected in a series of incidents which build a picture of the events surrounding Homer's death.

In many ways the townsfolk are duplicitous in the death, they even surround her house with lime to counteract the smell, which hindsight tells us was the smell of Homer's rotting corpse. It is interesting to note that lime is often poured into graves before a body is buried.

In many respects Emily's story characterises the whole of southern society at the time. Frequently Faulkner makes reference to the Civil war and the profound effect it had on southern society is alluded to at points in the text. I feel it is significant that Homer Barron is described as a "Yankee" from the north which defeated the south. It is another example of Emily's belief that she is better than the society which she inhabits. In many ways the story reveals a form of corruption under the exterior of southern life. He reveals a world of hushed voices and shadows in which Emily's actions have always been scrutinised.

The most striking section of the piece is section five, in which Emily's terrible secret is revealed. The description of the scene in Homer's 'tomb' serves not only to shock, but also to reveal more of Emily's character. In this section Faulkner talks of the way in which the old seem to regard the past:

"...for whom the past is not a diminishing road but ... a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches divided from them now by the narrow bottle neck of the most recent decade of years."

The scene of decay in Homer's "tomb" is a symbol of the folly of Emily's refusal to move on. The opening of the room reveals a stagnant world of decay which in many respects mirrors the decaying way of life at this time.

I found "A Rose for Emily" to be a rewarding piece. I found the manner in which it is written and its confused chronology add to its menace and give it the characteristics of a well told myth. The way in which Faulkner represents the way in which time destroys is particularly effective. He seems to use the events of the story to place the whole of southern society under the microscope.

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