How do the authors' use of symbolism in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and in "A Rose for Emily" compare and contrast?I have read both stories and need to compare/contrast the authors' use of symbolism for...

How do the authors' use of symbolism in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and in "A Rose for Emily" compare and contrast?

I have read both stories and need to compare/contrast the authors' use of symbolism for the two stories. I am having a hard time with this. Any insight is appreciated.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps in deciding how symbols are used by William Faulkner in "A Rose for Emily" and by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in "The Yellow Wallpaper," you may wish to trace the development of character in each story as there is a commonality to Emily and Gilman's narrator.  For, both are victims of female repression and confinement who seek escape while they also seek to control long forbidden desire and fears.  And, both women's final act is an expression of long, suppressed rage.

For Gillman's narrator, the yellow wallpaper becomes a text that she feels she must interpret. Representing the structure of family, medicine, and tradition in which she is trapped, the narrator begins by attempting to decipher the pattern of this symbol of domestic life that has her confined.  As the story progresses, Gilman's narrator imagines herself watched by "absurd, unblinking eyes" that are everywhere, enraging her--"I am getting angry enough to do something desperate."  So, she finally retreats in her obsessive fantasy where she has control, believing that she has freed herself as she has freed the woman behind the paper: "I've got out at last."

Like Gilman's narrator, Emily Grierson lives a life of repression under the rigid control of her patriarch as well as the demands of her social standing in town.  (Emily herself has been interpreted as a symbol of the decaying Old South.) She lives with her father who has denied her suitors, and after his death, his presence is still upon her as she wears his gold chain and ebony cane with the tarnished gold head, objects of her father.  In addition, she keeps the old Negro man who has served her family.  When Emily does attempt to break the restraints of her old life, she finds it difficult to do so.  For one thing, the town perceives her as "a fallen monument" and an "idol in a niche" who is passed "from generation to generation."  She has known no real life, she is likened to inanimate objects. So, she clings to her father's body after his death, and is forced to relinquish it for burial by the aldermen.

Thwarted in her life, Emily goes with Homer Barron, only to be abandoned by him.  When he returns, Emily sets up a situation in which she can have control:  She kills Homer in her obsession with death.  The "rose for Emily" represents love, but also the medieval symbol of secrecy.  Certainly, death is symbolic, too, in Faulkner's story as it represents the end of the old South and of Emily who,kept in a childish state of ignorance all her life,embraces death because it is all she has ever known.

Thus, in William Faulkner's story, there are several symbols that give significant meaning to the final obsessive act of Emily.  On the other hand, in Gilman's story, one main symbol functions significantly as it transforms as the narrator's mental condition spirals downward until reaching insanity.

[See the  2 links below for more discussion on symbolism in each story and a link for how to write a comparison/contrast essay]

Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

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