What does the rose stand for, theme and character?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" renders honor to a woman who represents the last vestige left from an culture that has succumbed to circumstance: The Old South.

Emily is not described under the most favorable light, but there is a clear indication in the narrative that she is a very respected member of the community, precisely because she represents the past living in the moment. Faulkner provides for a way to respect the Old South. He does it through Emily. For the entire town knows who she is and even acts with deference as she enters their lives.

They rose when she entered—a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why 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. Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.

This shows us that Rose is used as a symbol of respect for the past.Yet, the first example which demonstrates the importance of Emily in the community of Jefferson is the fact that the entire town attends her funeral.

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

Furthermore, the townsfolk connects Emily to the history of Jefferson:

Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor—he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron—remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity

All this being said, we could conclude that Faulkner tells this story to honor the past and what Emily represents in a town which has changed with time. A rose represents her softness, her delicate nature, her special importance and, most importantly, the unique combination of danger and uniqueness that women compose. Faulkner offers Emily a rose. He is honoring her and her life. Meanwhile, he is also pointing out that her behavior is not so much her fault, as it is the fault of the stuffy and stubborn ways of the Southern culture.


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A Rose for Emily

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