What is the symbolism of "rose" in "A Rose For Emily" and why does Faulkner use it? What does it mean in the storyline?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Except for its use in the title, rose is never explicitly mentioned in the story.  Much like the lonely rose that stands amidst the thorns and barren ground outside the prison door in Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," the rose is symbolic of a passionate and strong nature which is not allowed to develop in the main character.  Like Hester Prynne, Emily Grierson is denied her "rose."  Dominated by her father and the mores of the dead culture of the Old South, Emily, like Hester, loses her bloom of youth, her pride and her passion, all of which are symbolized by the rose.  In her youth suitors are turned away; after the death of her father, Emily leads a secluded life withdrawn from most adults.  Her pride destroyed by such waste and indigency, Emily finds herself teaching china painting as an older woman and keeping company with an outsider to her Old South:  a Yankee laborer.

Certainly, Faulkner's use of the rose in the title is effective in its sublety.  For, the connotations of this flower are in the mind of the reader as the narrative progresses.  In this way, the gothic effect is created as the narrative concludes with the meaning of the symbolic rose turned in a grotesque manner. The reader can imagine a withered, dead rose in the place of the single grey hair.

The symbol of everlasting love, the rose of Emily dies with her one chance at boldness, passion, love:  Homer lies dead and decaying in her bed where Emily's womanhood should have found its fruition.


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