Identify a symbol in "A Rose for Emily" and explain its significance to the plot.

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Four symbols in "A Rose for Emily" are the watch she wears, the taxes she doesn't pay, the crayon portrait of her father, and the lime the aldermen spread around her house.

On one of the few occasions when the aldermen actually meet Emily in her home, she...

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appears wearing "a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt." Later it is revealed that there is an invisible watch ticking at the end of the chain. This symbolizes Emily's refusal to acknowledge the passing of time. It still exists—it keeps ticking—but she keeps it hidden, just as she refuses to pay taxes despite a new era in town, and as she refuses to acknowledge that the time of her romance withHomer Barron has ended.

The fact that Emily doesn't pay taxes in town and the new government can't get her to do so symbolizes her flaunting of all societal norms. At first the taxes were waived for her, much as the townspeople grudgingly acknowledged the social superiority of the Griersons. However, when the taxes are demanded, it represents how the townspeople expect Emily to conform to societal norms now that her lack of wealth is common knowledge. Emily doesn't pay the taxes, and she never begins acting the way her neighbors believe she should.

The crayon portrait of her father that is prominent in Emily's home symbolizes the way that her father's influence continues to affect Emily. Not only did she inherit insanity from his side of the family, but his not allowing her to marry any of the young men in town led to her unhealthy relationship with Homer Barron. 

Finally, the lime the aldermen spread around her house is a symbol of their trying to mask the problem of Emily without ever getting at its root. They spread lime because they are too embarrassed to confront her about the smell on her property. In the same way, they don't really pursue the problem Emily represents—they let it continue for decades, even though it turns out she has been guilty of murder and is therefore criminally insane.

These are some of the symbols Faulkner works into "A Rose for Emily."

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What is the symbolism found in the short story, "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner?

William Faulkner uses many symbols to emphasize the important themes found in "A Rose for Emily."

THE ROSE.  The rose in the title, as well as the "valance curtains of faded rose colour upon the rose-shaded lights," symbolizes the love that Emily never finds.

THE MANSERVANTTobe, Emily's manservant, is representative of the past: a Negro (and possibly former slave) who faithfully works for Emily until her death and then disappears.

THE SIDEWALKS.  The construction of the sidewalks which Homer Barron supervises symbolizes modern progress and change.

HOMER BARRON.  The Yankee Homer Barron represents both the old ways of the South (he is a modern-day carpetbagger) and the contemprary ideas of the newer generation, who no longer considers Northerners as their enemy. Homer is entirely likable, unlike the stereotypical Yankee who is only bent on the destruction of the South.

THE PORTRAIT.  The portrait of Emily and her father serves to represent the ways of the Old South: Emily's father, a strict man holding a whip; and Emily, as the weak, innocent, subservient young Southern belle.

THE GRAY HAIR.  Emily's hair that is left behind on the pillow next to Homer's remains symbolizes her life decadence and perversity, as well as the unrequited love between the two.

THE HOUSE.  The Grierson home serves as a remembrance of the glory days of the South--once a magnificent structure but now a decrepit, crumbling symbol of decay amidst the

... cotton wagons and gasoline pumps--an eyesore among eyesores.

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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," list and explain several symbols and their meanings.

There are a number of items that may be considered symbolic in William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily."

The first is the "rose" mentioned in the title. Michael Ferber in A Dictionary of Literary Symbols writes:

Almost any flower can represent a girl, but the rose has always stood for the most beautiful, the most beloved.

There is also the reference, noted by Ferber, that the rose is something with a short life, but the rose is also something that has thorns. Emily Grierson is a rose: for a time she may have felt greatly loved by Homer Baron (or perceived his attentions as such); the relationship between the two was short-lived—and Emily's chance at love dies quickly; and, without a doubt, by the story's end, we know that Emily had "thorns."

In some ways, Emily may symbolize an old way of life. When her father was alive, she was the picture of propriety. When he died, Colonel Sartoris, in the manner of an old Southern gentleman (coming to the aid of a "defenseless young woman") deferred her taxes for the remainder of her life. However, she became more independent: for example, she does not live with another woman in the house, and goes out riding unchaperoned with Homer—she may well represent the decline of the South over time.

Emily is referred to as a "fallen monument." This might refer to the fact that she was once symbolic of the upper-crust of society and has fallen on hard times, lacking a means of support. Her house is old and falling apart—it has seen better days, as has Emily. So while she may have been put on a pedestal by some, those days are gone. However, there is also the sense that "fallen" could symbolize her sexual relationship with Homer, as unmarried women who engaged in sex before marriage were called "fallen" women.

There are numerous references to dust. When the representatives of the community come to her home to collect Miss Emily's taxes, the house smells old, and as they sit, the dust begins to move around them.

It smelled of dust and disuse—a close dank smell...and when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs...

The dust may symbolize death, and may even then foreshadow the discovery of Homer's body later in the story.

The breaking of the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust...A thin acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere...Among [the man's toilet things] lay collar and tie...which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust.

Looking at the body, having rested in the bed so long, Faulkner describes the dust again:

...upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.

It is interesting to remember what is often said at funerals—"ashes to ashes, dust to dust" which...

...is based on scriptural [text] such as "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19).

Smell is mentioned several times. It also seems to by symbolic of death and/or decay. When the men visit the house at the beginning of the story (to collect taxes), the house smells—"of dust and disuse"—like a tomb. Later in the story there is the incident of the terrible smell coming from Miss Emily's home: we later learn that it was a dead body. Finally, at the end of the story, the "bridal room" smells:

...and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils...

Additional Source:

Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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