A Rose for Emily: Fallen from Grace


A comparative essay on the use of symbolism in William Faulkner\'s "A
Rose for Emily."
Authors traditionally use symbolism as a way to represent the sometimes
intangible qualities of the characters, places, and events in their works. In
his short story "A Rose for Emily," William Faulkner uses symbolism to compare
the Grierson house with Emily Grierson\'s physical deterioration, her shift in
social standing, and her reluctancy to accept change.
When compared chronologically, the Grierson house is used to symbolize
Miss Emily\'s physical attributes. In its prime, the Grierson house is described
as "white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the
heavily lightsome style of the seventies" (Faulkner 69). This description
suggests that the house was built not only for function, but also to impress and
engage the attention of the other townspeople. Similarly, the wealthy women of
the era, Emily Grierson not withstanding, were dressed in a conspicuous manner.
This, for the most part, is because their appearance was perceived as a direct
reflection on their husbands and/or fathers. This display of extravagance was
egotistically designed by men to give an impression of wealth to onlookers.
Emily was regarded by her father as property. Her significance to him was
strongly ornamental, just as their overly lavish home was. As the plot
progresses, the reader is clearly made aware of the physical decline of both the
house and Miss Emily. Just as the house is described as "smelling of dust and
disuse," evidence of Emily\'s own aging is given when her voice in similarly said
to be "harsh, and rusty, as if from disuse" (70-74). Ultimately, at the time of
Emily\'s death, the house is seen by the townspeople as "an eyesore among
eyesores," and Miss Emily is regarded as a "fallen monument" (69). Both are
empty, and lifeless. Neither are even remotely representative of their former
splendor.
Just as their physical characteristics, Faulkner uses the Grierson house
as a symbol for Miss Emily\'s change in social status. In its prime, the house
was "big," and "squarish," and located on Jefferson\'s "most select street" (69).
This description gives the reader the impression that the residence was not only
extremely solid, but also larger than life, almost gothic in nature, and
seemingly impervious to the petty problems of the common people. The members of
the Grierson family, especially Emily, were also considered to be strong and
powerful. The townspeople regarded them as regal. And Emily, as the last
living Grierson, came to symbolize her family\'s, and possibly the entire south\'s,
rich past. The townspeople\'s reveration of Emily soon decayed, however, once it
was rumored that she was left no money, only the house, in her father\'s will.
Also, her scandalous appearances with Homer Barron further lessened her
reputation in the public eye. And, perhaps inevitably, the prestige and
desirability of the Grierson house fell right along side Miss Emily\'s
diminishing name.
Perhaps the most significant comparison occurs when the Grierson house
is used to symbolize Emily Grierson\'s unwillingness to accept change. Emily
Grierson held tightly to her family\'s affluent past. A good example of this
occurred when representatives were sent to her home to collect her delinquent
taxes. She completely rejected her responsibility to the town by referring the
men to a time when the since departed mayor, Colonel Sartoris, "remitted her
taxes" (70). Miss Emily and the house show further examples of their disregard
for progress when Emily denies the Grierson house a number, and a mailbox, just
as Emily herself refused to be labeled or to be associated with anything as
modernistic and common as a mailbox. Even when she was left "alone, a pauper,"
and "humanized," she absolutely refused to be viewed with pity (72). In fact
she "demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last
Grierson" (73). Likewise, just as Emily held herself "a little too high" for
what she was, the house is presented as "Lifting its stubborn and Coquettish
decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps" (69). The cotton wagons and
gasoline pumps in this description are undoubtedly used to symbolize what Emily
must surely see as the mostly unimportant and purposeless townspeople. This
single comparison by itself provides indisputable evidence that Emily Grierson
and her family\'s house are strongly related with one another.
So, it should now be obvious to the analytical reader that the
relationship between the Grierson house\'s and Miss Emily Grierson\'s, physical
deterioration, shift in social standing, and reluctancy to accept change, is too
precise to be construed coincidental. It is precisely this open usage