The story A Rose for Emily remains one of the greatest narrations by William Faulkner. The story was initially published in Forum in 1930 before being integrated into Faulkner’s collection. Faulkner narrates an unmarried woman who attracts the concern and suspicion of Jefferson town residents in Mississippi who, after the demise of her father, she is romantically involved with Homer Barron, a Northerner. The genre of the story is a Southern gothic-style novel, intimately describing denial of death, isolation, and the changing of the South. The themes of foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony are prominent throughout the A Rose for Emily story and play significant roles in depicting Emily and conveying the underlying meaning of the entire story.
Foreshadowing is the cornerstone of Faulkner’s style used to trigger suspense in A Rose for Emily’s story. Foreshadowing is evident when Faulkner expresses Emily’s inability to accept the concept of death. When ladies bothered by the odor called to her house to ask about her father, “With no trace of grief on her face, she told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner 4). Faulkner lightly eludes the coming events in the story by highlighting Emily’s South inclination. Later at the end of the story, Emily denies and conceals Barron’s death until she dies and people discover his long-dead body. Another example of foreshadowing is when the narrator describes Emily’s hair changing color as she aged. The hair foreshadows Emily’s mental condition, necrophilia, discovered towards the end when people find her strand of hair near Barron’s decayed body. Besides Barron’s body, the people found “that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner 8). The story starts by foreshadowing the depraved relationship between the Grierson and the Jefferson community. In the story’s first paragraph, Faulkner foreshadows community hostility in A Rose for Emily. When discussing Emily’s funeral, Faulkner foregrounds the deceitful relationship the Jefferson community built with Emily. The first stanza states, “Our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (Faulkner 1). The social isolation of the Griersons is further demonstrated in the middle of the story. The author denotes, “Remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last, believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they were” (Faulkner 3). Close to the end of the story, explains how Emily was avoided by the community who perceived her as jealous and selfish. Faulkner leverages foreshadowing to create dramatic tension and suspense throughout the story.
Symbolism is heavily featured in A Rose for Emily’s story to typify fallen monuments and the alteration of generations. Symbolism is utilized to depict Emily as a typical old-generation Southerner woman. Emily’s actions represented a Southern point of view. The story reads, “The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolences and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door dressed as usual” (Faulkner 4). Faulkner describes society’s unrelenting old-fashioned attitudes towards Emily, and he refers to her as a fallen monument. Emily’s house is an important symbol of perishing and decay. Faulkner explains that she lived in “a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires” (Faulkner 1). From the statement, she lived in a mansion that was once a treasure but has been surpassed by time and displays decay. Homer Barron, a Yankee, is a big dark man working as a foreman, symbolizing the pre-civil war memories in the story A Rose for Emily. Barron, who was in a relationship with Emily, reflected the days when her family kept a Negro butler when they benefited from the pre-civil War privileges and high social status as a white Southerner. When recalling the past, ladies in the territory believed the only sign of life at the Grierson’s was a butler going to the market and cleaning the kitchen. Page 3 of the story reads, “Only sign of life about the place was the Negro man-a young man then-going in and out with a market basket.” After realizing Emily’s romantic relationship with Barron, Jefferson people gossiped about how her father would never allow her marriage to a Northern Negro. Grierson would not Barron symbolizes the history of Pre-Civil War slavery and the status quo. Moreover, he would stoop and go In and out with the market basket as the butlers did during the Pre-Civil War era. In the story, Emily’s father’s death symbolizes the fall of ancient southern prosperity and the rise of a civilized generation. Page 1 of the story reads, “But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left.” Therefore, Emily’s father was the last blemish of the Pre-Civil War conservatives, and his death marked a generational shift. Ultimately, symbolism creates a visual and sensory experience of the story while adding depth and meaning.
Faulkner utilizes verbal and situational irony to emphasize the central idea and engage the audience to realize the context. Verbal irony is utilized in A Rose for Emily to depict the state of the Griersons’ isolation after the death of Emily’s father. During their prime days, Colonel Sartoris pledged that the Griersons would not have to pay taxes by faking to loan money to the town. Describing the occurrence, “Colonel Sartoris invented an involved story to the effect that Miss Emily’s father had loaned money to the town” (Faulkner 1). After the death of Mr. Grierson, the author states that the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris remitted Emily’s tax benefits. Emily tells the new mayor to consult Colonel Sartoris, who had been dead for ten years, about her taxes. Requesting the mayor to ask the dead is a verbal irony to delineate that neither she nor the mayor understood the tax relief deal with the state. Faulkner utilizes verbal irony to describe, “Only a man of Colonel Sartaris’ generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it” (Faulkner 1). This means that the new mayor would not uphold the tax relief, although Emily was inclined to count on it. Unlike verbal irony, where words differ from what they mean, situational irony is employed in the story to create expectation. Situational irony is evident at the end twist when Jefferson people break into Emily’s bedroom and realize she did not only kill Barron but also has been sleeping with his corpse. When Emily is disappointed in life, she isolates herself from the community together with his husband until they disappear entirely for some time. At first, when Jefferson people discovered Emily’s body, they assumed she was the only one who was dead. A passage states, “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it” (Faulkner 8). Later, the people realize Barron had vanquished and broke down Emily’s door only to find him dead. The author states, “The man himself lay in the bed.” Situational irony is when Jefferson people thought Barron had left and Emily was alone, while in reality, she had him all that time. Verbal and situational irony in A Rose for Emily creates contrast and expectations in the story.
Examining Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily’s underlying meaning and characters by evaluating the literary elements of foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony have expounded on the intentional crafts leveraged by the author to refine the story. The story ends when the community surrounding the Griersons reflects on the mysterious deaths and Emily’s love story when they dramatically discover Emily was sleeping with a dead body. The story emphasizes the abyss separating the Griersons and the Jefferson citizens expounded by evaluating the themes of foreshadowing, symbolism, and irony. The genre for A Rose for Emily is the Southern gothic-style demonstrated by Emily’s denial of death, isolation, and the changing of the South. The moral lesson of the story is that while the past will always remain, change is inventible. Jefferson townspeople attempt to modernize Emily, who consistently preserves conservative South values and disregards progress. Emily’s resistance to change rendered her bizarre in modern society, which subjected her to isolation and a deserted death.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily, (n.d).