Compare Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott" with William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily", especially with regard to their use of symbols. What other poem has the most in common with "The Lady of Shalott?"
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Both Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott," and William Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," revolve around themes of unrequited love driving women to insanity or death. This is a common literary theme. Tennyson's "Mariana" and "Œnone" are quite similar to "The Lady of Shallott" in being written from the point of view of women driven to death or insanity by unrequited love.
In both "A Rose for Emily" and "The Lady of Shalott" external symbols or objects are used to manifest the internal states of the central characters. Two important symbols affect our reading of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," the mirror and the river. The Lady weaves in a tower, only seeing the world through a mirror; when she turns from the mirror to look at the real Lancelot, " The mirror crack'd from side to side;/'The curse is come upon me,' cried/The Lady of Shalott." The mirror acts as a symbol for the world of art or a fantasy world, which is safe precisely because it is remote from reality. When the Lady gazes directly upon Lancelot, reality breaks into her enchanted tower, and she dies. As T.S. Eliot states in "Four Quartets": "human kind/Cannot bear very much reality." The second symbol is the river, inexorably flowing towards Camelot, and dominating the poem. In Tennyson, the river functions as a symbol of how life flows inevitably towards death, a goal that is simultaneously tragic and transcendent, as is illustrated in the ending of his poem "Crossing the Bar" in which he talks about death in terms of crossing the sandbar where a river meets the sea, both as an end of life and as a new beginning with the potential of union with the divine.
William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" differs from Tennyson's poem in that Miss Emily Grierson, the jilted woman, responds to Homer Barron's lack of interest in marrying her by killing him. The most important and gruesome symbol in the story is the lock of silver hair the townspeople find by Homer's corpse in Emily's house, as it implies some type of necrophilia, all the more horrifying for being presented indirectly. Also important as a symbol are the taxes Emily refuses to pay due to a fiction created by Colonel Sartoris; Emily's insistence that he lives, even though he is actually dead, and that the polite fiction of the tax rebate is a reality, also illuminates the notion that fiction or fantasy is the basis of her life and that when reality breaks in, tragedy or horror ensues.
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