When describing Miss Emily, in "A Rose For Emily," what does the phrase "a pallid hue" mean?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" is a short story set in the South not too long after the Civil War. Women were still placed upon a pedestal, father's ruled their families with an iron fist, and societal expectations were to be followed.

Miss Emily is a woman who, after her father dies, completely defies convention, flaunting her behavior as an independent female in a male-dominated society. The voice of the narrator (who is an unidentified member of the community) speaks in the language of the old South—with a stoicism of a society that watched things move slowly along because of the heat and because it had been done that way forever. For example, when Miss Emily buys rat poison, the townspeople believe she will kill herself, and believe "it would be the best thing." They take the idea in stride.

Faulkner is also excellent in providing startling imagery. In fact, the last line of the story is its most effective because of the care he has taken in describing Miss Emily and her life—most especially her appearance: delivered in small, succinct details that carry enormous power as a storyteller's words should.

The line you mention comes in the midst of another of these wonderful sections of masterful imagery from Faulkner:

...when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their things, spinning with slow motions in the single sun-ray...she entered—a small, fat woman in black...Her skeleton was small and spare... what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.

The word "hue" means color. The word "pallid" means pale: "pale; faint or deficient in color." When trying to ascertain what something means, it is almost always absolutely necessary to look at the words in the context in which they are used. Faulkner uses the narrator to describe Miss Emily looking like a dead body that has been underwater for a long time. The image itself is ghastly, and so, too, must be Miss Emily. She is fearful to look at, ghoulish perhaps. When she is described as this body "long submerged" in the water, we are to understand that her skin is very pale—without healthy color: looking lifeless. We reason that a body in the water would lack healthy color because it is dead and in the water, but there is no reason given for the frightening and off-putting appearance of this specter that appears before the men. Miss Emily actually does "look like death."

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