In "A Rose for Emily", how is Miss Emily's house symbolic?

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edcon's profile pic

edcon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Miss Emily Grierson's house, with its "cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies" represents the grandness of a Southern house built just after the end of the Civil War.  It stands in contrast to "the next generation, with its more modern ideas."  These modern ideas include rejecting the gentlemen's agreement that her taxes will be forgiven because of the favor her father had done for the town by lending it money years before.

After Miss Emily dismisses would-be tax collectors from her home, her house stands as a fortress protecting the Southern gentility of a mostly abandoned way of life. Her elaborate stationery, calligraphy, formal dress, and employment of an African American all speak to a house where time has stopped. Over time, "her front door remained closed, save for a period of six or seven years" when she gave lessons in china-painting," a pastime of genteel Southern women that eventually fades away as people lose interest.  

Miss Emily's house, a symbol of her unrelenting grip on a vanished past, ultimately has to be forcibly invaded.  Men from town have to break into her cellar to sprinkle lime when her house begins to reek of decomposition.  Upon her death, the room where she has died, which no outsider had seen for forty years, has to be broken into.


ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Miss Emily's house, like Miss Emily, is a symbol both Emily and the decaying South. Her house, is described as once being a "grand house" ‘‘set on what had once been our most select street.’’ However, by the end of the story her house and the neighborhood it is in have deteriorated. The narrator notes that prior to her death, the house “had once been white,” and now it is the only house left on the block. It has become “an eyesore among eyesores". This mirrors Emily's deterioration and with it the deterioration of the "Old South" and its way of life. Emily's father had been once of the most respected men in the town. However, he left Emily virtually penniless with only her family reputation behind her. As the story unfolds, we see Emily's deterioration into delusion and, probably, madness. By the end of the story, Emily, like her house, has become a "fallen monument" to the people of the town and to the old Southern lifestyle.

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