Why is Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” considered a “ghost” story, and how is this presented throughout the story by the use of symbolism?  

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reason people might refer to "A Rose for Emily" as a "ghost story" is that Faulkner himself once called it that. However, there is no appearance of a ghost in the story. Instead, the story is more appropriately considered "Southern Gothic" or "Gothic horror" in its genre. Gothic stories deal with spooky homes, eerie characters, and horrifying actions. This story has all these.

The symbols that make the story seem like a ghost story and carry out its Gothic theme include the imagery of Miss Emily silhouetted in the windows of her home, the rat poison, the taciturn servant, and the lime the councilmen spread around the home. At several points in the story, the townspeople observe Emily inside the home at night only through a window; she rarely goes out during the day. This image ensconces her in the reader's mind as the spooky recluse who lives in the home no one ever enters. Likewise, the hunched servant who speaks to no one but goes in and out of the home is reminiscent of the "Igor"-type servant in many Gothic tales. When Miss Emily goes to buy poison and refuses to tell the druggist what she wants it for, he wraps it up and writes "for rats" on the package. This certainly has nefarious overtones and foreshadows the murder that is revealed at the end of the story. When the townspeople decide to spread lime around the outside of the home to deal with its smell rather than confront Emily directly, it is the symbolic equivalent of using garlic to defend against vampires.

Another symbol is Miss Emily's watch that she wears on a chain tucked into her waist; the chain is visible but the watch is not, suggesting that time has stopped. The dust and acrid smell of Emily's house when the council men come to collect taxes are other elements that make the house seem spooky and potentially haunted.

While the story is not a true ghost story in that it does not feature a ghost, Faulkner obviously used Gothic elements and elements of horror to symbolize the way that Miss Emily had disconnected from her society and her time after she murdered her beloved.

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A Rose for Emily

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