In the short story "A Rose for Emily", by William Faulkner, symbolism is used frequently to show insight to hidden meanings in the story. Faulkner uses a rose to symbolize love and secrecy. Emily's house is also used to symbolize Emily as a monument, alienation, and death. Lastly, the strand of hair left on the pillow symbolizes love lost and a life of decay.
The rose is a symbol for love. In the story, Homer is the "rose" or love for Emily. Emily's father sheltered her and believed no man was good enough for her. Emily wasnt given the opportunity to experience love before Homer came into her life. The Narriator says, "We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will." (pg. 93) The rose also represents secrecy. The rose stands for Emily's secret; that Homer is her "rose" thats she loved and kept to herself even after his body was decaying.
Emily's house, like Emily, is a monument. They both represent the decline of the "Old South". The house used to be one of the nicest houses on the street. Later, during the time the story takes place, the house is old and worn in. Emily too has grown older and has worn with time. The Narriator says, "only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting it's stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps." (pg. 91) The house, like Emily, seems out of place in a changing society. The house also symbolizes alienation. Emily alienated herself inside her house to avoid people and change. Her house is also a symbol for death. She uses her house to keep Homer's body as a shrine.
The strand of hair symbolizes love lost. Emily's father kept her away from finding love. The strand of "iron grey hair" symbolizes a bitter woman who lived a life without ever finding true love. The Narriator says, "Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair." (pg.97) The strand of hair also symbolizes a life of decay. Emily laid with corpses because all that she had to be proud of was also dead. Her desperate attempt to hold on to the past has failed, and she left part of herself behind in the grey hair.
The symbols in the short story "A Rose for Emily" help us better understand who Emily is. Emily sheilds herself from the world to avoid being hurt. She wants her true identity to remain unknown to the rest of the town. She alienates herself in an attempt to keep out of scrutiny. Emily refuses to let Homer abandon her, so she takes his life in order to keep her power over him. She is a woman who was not able to find love, and once she found something she believed to be similar to love, she did everything she could to hold on to it forever.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on A Rose for Emily.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Web. 1 Oct. 2010.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ninth ed. Vol. 9. Boston, NY: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2010. 91-97. 9 vols. Print.