William Faulkner short story A Rose for Emily presents the readers with an interesting account of a woman life d Emily. The story highlights and explores various psychological and social aspects of human nature as it is apparent from the author strategic use of various literary devices such as reality based thematic concerns, engaging symbolism and plot devices which result not only in adding an element of suspense and mystery in the prose but also makes it more complex and fascinating.
1. Thematic Concerns
The various themes that provide an insight of human social and psychological behavior include theme of death and decay, theme of isolation and theme of love. In literature theme of death and decay is generally used as a symbolic representation of deterioration and degeneration. Similarly Faulkner also incorporates this theme in order to depict the bitter reality of human beings who are on their way to destruction as the writer believes that human existence is now devoid of emotions and feeling where man is living a mechanical existence and waiting for the ultimate escape i.e. death as it is also observed that the story commences with the funeral of Emily and ends with the death of Homer. Moreover this can also be deduced from the description of Emily in the story as it describes Emily as a living dead creature i.e. although she is alive yet she is hollow or empty on the inside hence she is almost dead. As it is also stated in the text, “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” (Faulkner 14). Theme of death also stresses on the reality of life that this world is a temporary place and ultimately everything is going to collapse and meet its end.
The theme of isolation in this prose is indirectly linked with theme of death and decay as Harold Bloom also says, “Emily is isolated from the community. Her isolation is so thorough that she does not or can not have a suitor from Jefferson… her isolation eventually grows to resemble a living dead in which her closest companion is a corpse” (90). This theme also depicts the irony of human existence i.e. although an individual is surrounded by people yet he is alone. As it is inferred from Emily situation who has lived all her life in Jefferson yet the people of that community are strangers for her. Even her cousins are not a source of comfort and support. Hence it shows that every individual in this world is living a selfish and isolated existence.
Love is defined as an intense emotion that leads an individual to behave irrationally as it blinds him to all logic and reasoning. A similar case is observed in A Rose for Emily because her actions of keeping the dead body of Homer can be interpreted as an act of desperation on Emily part and also reveals her insecurities about being left alone. Hence she finds solace in keeping Homer dead body and sleeping with his corpse. Bloom also believes that, “while it may be an unconventional one “A Rose for Emily” is a love story. The revelation that Emily has slept beside Homer Barron corpse for 40 years let us know that his killing was motivated more by love than some other reason such as pride or revenge” (90).
Faulkner use of symbolism acts as a tool of foreshadowing and helps in the development of the plot. Initially the ‘Rose’ in the title suggests love as it is a cliché that a rose is a symbol of love and affection. However it is later revealed to the readers that the rose is either the symbolic representation of Emily irrational love and affection for Homer that led her to kill him and keep him with her or Emily Father love for her daughter that made him believe that no one was good enough for his daughter and hence he decided his daughter was better off alone rather than married.
The description of the house in the beginning of the story also symbolically emphasizes on the theme of death and decay in the story as it is mentioned in the text,
It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires…set on what had once been our more select street but garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august s of that neighborhood: only Miss Emily house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps an eyesore among eyesores (Faulkner 14).
Figuratively the numerous deaths in the story and the deteriorating house also symbolize “the decay of old order in South” (Harrington and Abadie 277). The symbol of the deteriorating house can also be perceived as a tomb or the coffin for the remains of Homer body and the dead alive Emily living in that house.
The hair in the story symbolizes a revolution for Emily in her twenties when it is stated, “she was sick for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short making her look like a girl…” (Faulkner 17). After her father death in a way Emily was reborn as she was now a free being and hence she had her affair with Homer. Moreover the strand of grey hair that was found on the pillow beside Homer remains in the end can also be interpreted as a symbol of Emily individuality who defied all the laws and codes of human behavior and led a life according to her desires. Although technically it further reiterates the last vestiges of life left to decay along with her lovers remains.
3. Plot Devices
In this prose it is observed that Faulkner presents the readers with a chaotic account of Emily story where he begins with the ending i.e. Emily funeral. Consequently he extensively incorporates flashback technique in the prose providing the readers with various chunks of Emily history and there is a constant oscillation between past and present. As Claridge also states, “In A Rose for Emily the world depicted is a confusion between past and present, the atmosphere is one of distortion; of unreality” (43). Moreover the plot is spatial as there is no logical ordering of events which makes the story more complex and interesting.
Hence it is observed that Faulkner use of various literary devices enhances the beauty of his piece of literature as it helps the readers to contemplate and explore new aspects of human behavior and actions.
Abadie, Ann J., and Harrington, Evans. Faulkner and the Short Stories. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1999. Print.
Bloom, Harold. Bloom How to Write about William Faulkner. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Print.
Claridge, Henry. William Faulkner: Critical Assessment Volume 1. Cornwall: MPG Books Ltd., 1999. Print.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. New York: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000. Print.