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While arguments can be made for each of the literary elements as significant in "A Rose for Emily," character seems essential to setting both as a gothic tale and as an allegory for relations between the North and the South, the themes of Death, Community vs. Isolation, the Old South vs. the New South, the sequence of events in plot, and, finally, as a symbol herself.
Emily, a character both tragic and gothic, is symbolic as her persona has meaning beyond that of a personage in the plot. She is tragic in her desperate and forlorn clinging to the vestiges of the old world that she has known, the world in which her patriarchal father wielded power not only his family, but withing the society of Jefferson. The townspeople describe Emily as "decaying"; like her house, she is "a fallen monument" who seems mentally deranged (she thinks her father is alive), suggesting both gothic characteristics and symbolism. The physical description of Emily indicates that she has already "decayed":
A small fat woman in black...She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water...and of that pallid hue.
As a symbol the character of Emily represents a vestige of the Old South, a lady who teaches china painting; her solitary life with an "old Negro manservant" who leaves upon her death suggests the disintegration of this Old South as also does her acceptance of the Northern Homer as a suitor. As the gothic "fallen monument," Emily murders this suitor and the townspeople make this grotesque discovery.
Indeed, it is the character of Emily Grierson that gives meaning to all other elements of "A Rose for Emily."
This can be argued since literature is open to a broad interpretation, but it seems that Faulkner used symbolism as one of the major literary element to develop this short-story.
Emily is not only symbolic of isolation, as well as, the old-south. She remains unwed, because she comes from an old aristocratic family--limiting her suitors. Emily's isolation creates a fasination with the town's people, even though she has nothing to do with them. She has privilages due to her social status, but in the end she takes advantages of her power and privilage in society. She symbolizes the old power and status driven south.
There is a shift in values as the generations change. Once concerned with gender issues when confronting Emily, the later generation is not; proving it by attempting to collect taxes.
Death is also a symbol of the darkness in the old southern society. Faulkner describes morbid details concerning the death of characters in the story. There is denial and foreshadowing from Emily's part when her father dies. The story begings and ends with death.
In the title, "rose" can symbolized the rose usally presented at funerals and it can also stand as a symbol of romance, romance which Emily fulfiled by killing and sleeping with Homer.
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