In "A Rose for Emily," what are some ways Faulkner uses Emily's house as an appropriate setting and as a metaphor for both her and the themes established in the narrative?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner uses Emily's house as the objective correlative that reinforces the emotions he wants readers to feel toward Emily, namely curiosity, pity, and disgust. Throughout the story, the house remains as mysterious as Emily. Just as the house is usually closed up, with people from the town rarely allowed inside, so Emily remains closed to the townspeople, not maintaining any friends or confidants among the residents. The town takes some responsibility for the house, respects it, and is embarrassed for it--the same reactions they have toward its owner. Thus they allow the house to continue tax-free even as they send their daughters to Miss Emily with coins "as if for the collection plate" when she gives china painting lessons. Both the home and Emily represent the town's past; consequently people respect both it and her even as they feel embarrassed by the house (especially when it smells) and by Emily's odd ways. Nevertheless, both the townspeople and readers experience a level of disgust at the home and at Emily. The smell that requires treatment with lime, the dust, the acrid smell, the cracked furniture--all make the home creepy and uninviting. Emily herself evokes disgust: she was bloated, pallid, and "her eyes [were] lost in the fatty ridges of her face." The disgust toward the house and Emily reaches a crescendo at the end of the story when the decomposed body of Homer Barron is found on the bed and Emily's gray hair on the pillow next to it.

The house not only reinforces the emotions of the story, but it also symbolizes Emily in several ways. Several times Emily is observed framed by the windows of her house, making her a visual unit with the building. The house had been her father's, just as Emily was under her father's absolute control while he lived. The house is impenetrable for the most part, as was Emily herself. It is colorless, being described as dark and dusty, just as Emily is "iron gray." Both the home and Emily are a burden to the community and an embarrassment, especially when the house smells. Both Emily and the house are old and uninviting. Neither keeps up with the times; Emily won't allow the new postal numbers to be put on the house, keeping it in the past, and her room reveals that she tried to freeze in time her "wedding day" with Homer just as she had denied the progression of time when her father passed away. The upstairs bedroom symbolizes Emily's brain or psyche. No one had seen the room in forty years, just as no one had been allowed to access Emily's thoughts for four decades. Inside the room were the remains of Homer Barron and a hoped-for relationship--the same things that had no doubt filled Emily's brain for all those years. The deterioration and perversity within the room mirror the sickness of Emily's mind. 

Faulkner uses Emily Grierson's family home as an objective correlative in the story, reflecting the emotions of the townspeople and the reader, and uses it as a symbol of Emily. Using the house in this way reinforces the themes that a new generation can have an awkward relationship with odd, elderly citizens and that women who are dominated by their fathers can develop a disturbed love/hate relationship with men.

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A Rose for Emily

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