Rose Symbolism in "A Rose for Emily"

“A Rose for Emily,” written by William Faulkner in 1931, present marvelous characters like Emily, Homer, and the Townspeople’s resemblances by the suggestive and connotative use of a rose as the major metaphor. However, as the story progresses, one feels that, this metaphor’s purpose reveals their mutual differences. This is fitting because Emily appears to be moral and respectable people on the surface; however, by delving deeper into the short story one uncovers her true nature, a miserable, unfriendly, and insane person.

Her path coincides with Homer’s as their paths both strike a remarkable resemblance to that of a rose’s. Best described as immortal, the townspeople are shown as being pretty from far but far from pretty. From afar, Faulkner chooses the rose to represent Emily because she appears reserved and would never harm anything or anyone. One can see Emily’s reclusive and subdued persona when the tax collectors come to her house, “She did not ask them to sit.

She just stood in the door and listened quietly until the spokesman came to a stumbling halt” (426).

Although she seemed peaceful, one can ascertain never to judge a book by its cover. Emily is truly traumatized by her father’s death and would not accept the fact that her father has left her permanently for another few days and due to that mental disparity, she devises a way to keep Homer with her permanently, even though he would not be alive. (Wallace, 106-7) Such as a rose has thorns when examined closely, so Emily displays this same attribute in her own life.

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When people came to get her father, she said to them, “Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead” (428) When people gave her their condolences, she would reject them as a result of denying the otherwise obvious truth. Her father’s death was a disturbing experience and ever since that day, she has had problems letting go and is scared to lose another loved one. (Schwab, 215-17) This obsession with never freeing herself from another person is one of her many major faults.

From this flaw, emerges a new vigorous thorn. Due to this psychological imbalance of not being able to let go, she decides to poison her next love, Homer Barron. Homer inspects Emily and finds a ‘special’ poisonous thorn that pierces him and ends his life: her insanity. Unfortunately, she is obsessed because she fears that he will leave her as her father and all male figures had in her life had. Her refusal to let go of loved ones drives her towards insanity. The reader sees a side of her that is completely unexpected when she says to the pharmacist, “”I want some poison,” she said to the druggist.

She was over thirty then, still a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye sockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper’s face ought to look. “I want some poison”” (431). Similar to the thorns of a rose, Emily is capable of being horribly vicious. In order to introduce this somber tone, Faulkner illustrates the extent of her insanity and portrays her unhealthy mindset. (Blythe, 49-50) After the thorns, one needs to consider Emily continuing in the same fashion as the life cycle of a rose.

Emily wilts away like a rose and “chooses” not to re-blossom. This portrays her human mortality, and conveys to the reader that she makes mistakes like all people but to a lethal extreme. Similar to many people, she is afraid of change, but the reader must wonder if she suffers from metathesiophobia, the fear of change. As a result of this phobia she wants to hold onto the past and resorts to an extreme act of killing Homer in order to appease herself from this fear. (West, 148-50) She eventually died as well.

When the townspeople discovered Emily lying dead in her bed, the people noticed something interesting next to her. “We noticed that in the second pillow was an indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (432). In attempt to display Emily’s reluctance to change, Faulkner infers that the ‘iron-gray hair’ is in reference to Homer. She is not the only one who ‘shrivels,’ but Homer does as well. As in real life, when one receives an actual rose, it shrivels up not long after.

Initially it is a romantic gesture but after the rose dies, the effect of the gesture slowly wears away. Homer is similar to a rose in the sense that soon after he went into Emily’s life; he is poisoned, “shrivels” like a rose, and is utterly forgotten by the townspeople. This is a representation to the reader that Homer is mortal as well and cannot be reborn. The town, on the other hand, rejuvenates itself because even if one man dies, somebody else will be born. The town is not a single rose but a garden of roses and cannot ‘shrivel. ‘ The rose displays the immortality of the town.

If one rose were to die, the death of the rose will not have such an impact on the beautiful garden because there are new roses emerging everyday. For this very reason, Emily’s death did not have such an effect on the town. She is just one rose of an entire garden. Therefore, she is “A” rose and not “The” rose. The townspeople are also far from pretty because they appear sincere by going to Emily’s funeral when, in fact, they are only going because they are curious to see her house. The first sentence of the short story starts off with the words, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: …

the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (425). If they were not shallow, they would have given her “The” rose instead of “A” rose. The “A” from “A Rose for Emily” is also symbolic and Faulkner is trying to deliver a message to the reader by using an “A” rather than a “The”. He is conveying that Emily only deserves one rose from the town because she does nothing for the new generation of the town, except cause problems by not moving and let that block be turned into other cotton fields.

(Adams, 121-24) Besides for Emily’s house, there were “But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores”(425). The townspeople gave her one rose because it is the town’s custom and not because they actually cared enough for her to pick a unique rose. When she was “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (426).

If the title started with a “The” instead of the “A”, it would have meant that people care for her and consider her to be somebody of importance to them. The “A” represents Emily to be indefinite and generic. Ms. Emily used to wear white dresses, which symbolize innocence, but she begins wearing black clothes, much like a mourner’s style of dress, after Homer presumably disappears. Emily’s change in appearance shows that she has become soiled in some sense. Ray West further supports this theory. ‘Emily had not always looked like this.

When she was young and part of the world with which she was contemporary, she was, we are told, ‘a slender figure in white,’ as contrasted with her father, who is described as ‘a spraddled silhouette. ‘ Even after her father’s death, [She] looked like a girl ‘with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows – sort of tragic and serene. ‘ The suggestion is that she had already begun her entrance into that nether-world (a world which is depicted later as ‘ rose-tinted)’ (149) Faulkner uses a rose as a device to symbolize all three main characters; Emily, Homer, and the town’s people.

The rose is the perfect word for what symbolizes all three of the main characters, and it alerts the reader that Emily and the others can be very different from what one expects throughout the story. Faulkner decided to use an “A” in the place of a “The” for a greater effect and a deeper meaning. Emily is “A” rose.

Works Cited

Adams Richard P. Faulkner: Myth and Motion. Princeton, N. J. : Princeton University Press, 1968. 121-24 Blythe, Hal. Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily. ‘ The Explicator. Washington D. C. : Heldref Publications, 1989. V. 47. 49-50. Faulkner, William.

‘A Rose for Emily. ‘ The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s P, 1993. Schwab, Melinda. A Watch for Emily. Studies in Short Fiction. Ed. Michael J. O’Shea. Columbia, SC: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1991. V. 28. 215-217. Wallace, James. Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily. ’ The Explicator. Washington D. C. : Heldref Publications, 1992. V. 50. 106-7. West, Jr. , Ray. Atmosphere and Theme in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’. Short Story Criticism. Ed. Sheila Fitzgerald. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc. Book Tower, 1989. V. 1. 148-50.

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Rose Symbolism in "A Rose for Emily". (2017, Apr 30). Retrieved from

Rose Symbolism in "A Rose for Emily"
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