A Rose for Emily Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

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

In “A Rose for Emily,” Miss Emily's house is symbolic in a number of ways. First of all, it represents a historical link with a supposedly more graceful past. More ominously, it represents Emily's mental decline, as this is the place where Homer Barron's corpse has been festering for years.

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Emily Grierson's house is an outward representation of its mistress. Emily is described early in the story as being almost like a "monument" to a time which is now in the past. Her house is one of the great antebellum Southern houses that belong to a time when the town was wealthy, and Emily's family was extremely important and well-to-do.

Emily still believes that she is part of that atmosphere. She refuses to admit that things have changed. Just as the old beautiful house crumbles and its paint peels, so Emily is becoming older, grayer, and more insignificant, but she continues to insist that she does not have to pay taxes in Jefferson and to behave as if she is a member of an important ruling class. She cannot accept that the ruling class no longer exists in the same way and that the laws are not different for her.

Just as Emily is a living memorial to a time gone by, then, the house she lives in is also a reminder of that time. The pair of them are slowly decaying together: both imposing and of continued interest and intrigue to the townsfolk, but without holding any of the power or threat they might once have done.

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Miss Emily's house, rather like Miss Emily herself, represents a living connection with the past. Though the small Southern town of Jefferson may have changed over the years, the same cannot be said of Miss Emily or the house in which she lives. They both remain stuck in the past. But as that past is generally regarded as being somehow more gracious, more glorious than the present, the townsfolk venerate Miss Emily and the old Grierson property, both of which remind them of a long-vanished age.

But the house has a much darker side. Within its old walls lies the festering corpse of Emily's long-dead lover Homer Barron. Although the smell of his rotting cadaver has been lingering for quite some time, no one was prepared to follow their noses and draw the appropriate conclusion. That was because, as we've seen, the good folk of Jefferson have always put Miss Emily on a pedestal. That being the case, inquiring into the source the revolting stench would have been seen as an invasion of her privacy, which no one in town would've considered appropriate.

The old Grierson place further represents Miss Emily's psychological condition. Its crumbling walls aptly symbolize Miss Emily's deteriorating mental health, which has led her not just to kill Homer Barron but keep his dead body in an upstairs bedroom.

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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.


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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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