Often people are stuck in the past and cannot accept the truth, the present, and modernization going around them. The character of Emily Grierson in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is one from this category of people. Emily Grierson was a strange personality with distinguished characteristics. From the point of view of many, she is a crazy woman because she kills her lover in order to keep him forever with herself. Miss Emily Grierson is a static character that is locked in her past life. She is not able to change herself and roll on with the wheels of time. William Faulkner, through the use of various symbols indicating death and decay, portrayed a woman whose life ends long before her death.
The first and one of the significant symbols of death and decay presented in the story is Miss Emily’s house itself. The look, setting and atmosphere of the house provide us with the features of death and decay in Emily’s life. The street where her house is located has changed completely except Miss Emily’s house. “Garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood” (28). The house that once had been beautiful is destroyed now. “…lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps- an eyesore among eyesores” (28). Cotton gins, cotton wagons, and the gasoline pipes are all symbols indicating the new and modernized era and period where still stands, Emily’s old and destroyed house. Emily’s house was an eyesore in the city, and Emily herself was a greater eyesore in her society.
The entire look from the inside of the house is also a symbol representing death and decay. The inside of her house is explored in the story for the first time when the deputation committee came to ask Miss Emily to pay her taxes. They passed through the door that no visitor had passed since a long time and entered a dim hall. “When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was cracked; and when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray” (29). The old furniture in her house, the cracks on her sofa and the dust-covered things in the place suggest the dark aspect of her life. The darkness and dimmed atmosphere of the place, throw us into an aura of dullness and sadness that demonstrates the significant feature of Emily’s character.
Miss Emily Grierson, herself is the most important symbol representing death and decay in her own life. Her appearance, face and her features all suggest a sort of dullness and stillness in her life. “She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another…” (29). The description of Emily and the features of her face provided by the author demonstrate the dry and deadly character of Emily more clearly. Miss Emily is also a very unsocial and isolated person.
The over protecting behavior of her father and too many restrictions put upon her by him, had a great influence and impact in shaping her personality. She lacks the elements of active social life and art of communication in her life. Emily has an extremely proud and self-important disposition because of her family status. “She carried her head high enough- even when we believed that she was fallen” (32). This sentence portrays her aristocratic behavior and high attitude. Her aristocratic behavior isolates her more from the society, leaving her alone with her gradual death, her sole companion.
Emily’s inability to accept the present and change itself is a significant symbol demonstrating death and decay in her life. For example, when authorities come to her and ask her to pay her taxes she in return tells them; “See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson” (30). At that time, nearly ten years had passed since the death of colonel Sartoris. This instance clearly shows Emily’s involvement in her past life, and the fact that she was not moving on with the pace of time. Another scene more clearly depicting this characteristic of Emily is when her father dies; she keeps the dead body of her father for three days in her house. After the death of her father she cuts her hair short; “…her hair was short, making her look like a girl…” (31). This incident also emphasizes that she wants to be her father’s little daughter again. This incident demonstrates that she does not have the ability to accept the reality, or maybe she does not want to do so.
Homer Barron is a symbol representing modernization and arrival of new period and age. Homer is a Northerner, a Yankee, presenting the era of manufacturing industry, technology, innovation, and reconstruction. His purpose of coming to the South is to work for construction and renovation; paving the sidewalks of the city. His personal character also demonstrates elements of modernization. He does not care about the code of behavior which is important in Emily’s community, a Southern society.
The story presents Homer as a person who is not a marrying man and likes to be free and prefers bachelor life. “Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group” (31). The description of Homer Barron in the story suggests that he was a carefree person, liked parties and enjoyed meeting with others. It also demonstrates his lively character which is completely the opposite personality of Emily Grierson. Homer was a person representing present and future, and Emily can not leave her past and move ahead so she kills Homer and keep him for ever hers.
All of the symbols present the isolated and steady character of Emily, which was still and static through the passage of time. Emily’s soul was covered with the dust of loneliness and dimmed by grief, sorrow and everlasting sadness. In the story “fallen monument” refers to Emily. Emily was a monument, a legend that has been ruined and shattered by the passage of time because of lack of care and attention. Not a single light of joy or happiness was in her life. Being a young woman, once she had been beautiful and attractive, but she was left alone because of the circumstances in her life. Emily lost her soul gradually through her lifetime and was actually dead long before her death.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 28-35.