quiltfic.gif (4639 bytes) Litonline--ENG 112


Who or What Is the Rose?

In 1997, Prof. Donna Reiss (Tidewater Community College), founding project leader for Litonline, posed this question about the symbolism of the rose in the title:

Many students have wondered about the title of "A Rose for Emily." Faulkner's explanation helps. So does the traditional symbolic gesture of a gift of a rose to a loved one. But there are some roses in the story. Where are they? And what is the irony of their presence there?

In 1999, Dusti Duckworth replied:

As I read the story one last time before writing my essay for class, I came up with a new "twist" on the significance and meaning of the rose in the title. I feel that the rose strongly indicates the bridal room and the secrets that went on there. The room is also a metaphor for Emily herself.

Here's why...

In a biblical dictionary, the term "rose" stands for "A disputed translation," hence the mystery of the rose. The rose is also "A symbol for silence or secrecy, so something said or done is not to be repeated or made public."

The rose is also a metaphor for Emily because, first of all, it is upstairs-- hence the high and mighty Griersons. It is secluded from everyone, like Emily. It is known and talked about that Emily closed off the upstairs. It had to be broken into just like Emily's life often was.

Holly (2003) replied that the rose is death: "I think that 'the rose' is referring to Emily's death. I think that for her, death was a long and drawn out process, because in reality she had been "dying" since her father had died. Her death was more of a reward, now she can be at peace and live her life how ever she wants to no longer have to worry about the passing of time."

Brooke (2003) suggests that the story is Faulkner's rose for Emily: "It seems that the majority of Faulkner's readers believe his text to be a criticism of Emily. Perhaps the rose is Faulkner's gift to Emily, his way of apologizing for the wrongs done to her by the emergence of new ideals in the Old South."

Jld8182 (2003) sees Tobe as the rose giver: "The real symbolism is when the servant runs from the house when the people arrive. He is the only one who knew what went on in the house and he did not want to disgrace her name, even in death. That was the 'rose'."

(Anon. 2003): Killing a rose to keep it: "The rose symbolized Emily having to maintain her posture or status for the Grierson name. When you want to keep a rose, you have to kill it. She killed Homer because he was gay and she didn't want to let the town know that she loved a gay man. She killed him to preserve her name and him, like a dead rose."

Waren (2000, JSR) also notes the pressed flower analogy: "I feel the "rose" is also symbolic of Miss Emily wanting to have something she loved and that was precious that she could hold onto forever. The reasoning behind her wanting to keep the bodies of her father and Homer to me was like when you press a beautiful rose between the pages of a book to keep it till eternity, only to find that it has dried and shriveled up just as the bodies did."

Jason (2003) considers an ancient symbolic meaning of roses vs. barren Emily: "Her appellation throughout the story shifts from 'Miss Emily,' emphasizing her virginal and unmarried state, to 'poor Emily,' suggesting the despoiled virgin. The title of the story is 'A Rose for Emily.' The virginal 'Miss' is absent in the title, and a rose is a medieval symbol for vagina. As such, the title would read 'A Vagina for Emily.' Furthermore, Homer is lying in an attitude of embrace as if anticipating or completing sexual activity. And he is a cuckold, a term that by definition can apply only to a married man, even if married only by deed. Marriage--not virginity--is Emily's primary concern. If Emily marries Homer, she must give up her Grierson name--with all its implied worth--to take Homer Barron's name. 'Barron' is a homophone for two words: 'baron' and 'barren.' Homer is not a noble baron, worthy of a Grierson, but a common day-laborer. As his wife, Emily would be barren of social position; but without him Emily is literally barren of childbearing and physical and emotional intimacy." 

bulletOne later essay includes these ideas, unfortunately, sometimes with identical wording and no attribution
or credit to the source, which might have been the comment above or this undated essay.  Thanks to Prof. Deborah S. Koelling of Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, for alerting me to the overlap in these three online documents.  (It's possible, of course, that all three are borrowing from an unstated print source that is not online.)  Regardless of the overlapping wording, students of the story may benefit from the ideas here and in the larger essays referenced here.  For example, the undated essay references a Faulkner novel for the notion that "virginity" is a male invention, which gives one perspective on the enforcer of virginity, Emily's father, in this short story.

Zesty (2003) sees Homer as the rose: "The interpretation of the title 'A Rose for Emily' is very simple if you think about it. In the south it was traditional for young lovers would give each other a flower, usually a rose, to be a sort of keepsake. The woman would press the trinket into the folds of some favorite book to dry and preserve it. Then, whenever reading and happening upon it she would be reminded of the pastimes that occurred with its giver an be temporarily relived of the pain of separation. It is very obvious that Homer Barron plays the part of Emily's rose. She keeps him tucked away in a rose colored room (to further illustrate my rose theory) which at times can be opened to allow the memories of her love to fleetingly wipe away her loneliness."

Crystal (2002) also sees Homer as the rose of love: "I'd like to comment on the most basic traditional symbolism of the rose being emotional love. My thoughts lead me in the direction that Homer is this rose alone, or the strongest of the roses in the story. Emily's life is full of decay, the only real love she has ever known. The house, her father, the butler, herself...all steadily decaying. We normally fall in love with those that are most like us, and yet still manage to complete us at the same time. I think this is what Homer did for Emily in his death, completed her and her love for him in the only way she knew love to be."

Jennifer (2003) sees the pink colors as suggesting Emily's girlishness: "In my opinion, the rose stood for a few different things. The pink color rose represented her girlishness and never being able to grow up and be normal. Also I think that the rose in the room with the dead body and the wedding items proves this point about the not being able to function as a normal adult. In addition, the pink was of her fallen beauty and how she was not mature enough in mind to deal with situations."

John (1997) notices the decor and lighting of Homer's room: "Roses were mentioned when the townspeople broke into Emily's bedroom after her death, 'upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights.' These rose colored items would artificially give the room a rosy light. The cliché 'as seen through rose colored glasses' comes to mind. But no matter how you look at the room, a tomb is a tomb. Maybe it was part of the way Emily rationalized her terrible deed. Also, the rose valance curtains would give the impression that the light from the outside was rosy and supporting like the town who did not collect taxes."

Christie (2000) notes a stage prop: "Well I did the play in 96 and in the script the rose was something that Homer gave to her when they went out. Also if you think about the way that the town watched Miss Emily wither away like a rose."

Mike (2000) sees Emily wilting: "I found three 'roses' in the short story. The first two, Emily's father and Homer, were objects saved by Emily. She attempted to keep them as one would press a rose in a book to keep as a remembrance. Homer ended up as an object to fill a void in Emily's life. This void was created by the first rose, her father.

"The irony is that Emily could not share these roses with anyone. She certainly couldn't display these symbolic roses.

"The third rose is Emily herself. A rose takes a lot of care to flourish. If it is not nourished properly, it will falter. Emily without doubt falters after her father's demise. She spends the rest of her life as a wilting, dying flower."

Trudy (2000) amplifies Mike's idea: "I think the rose is Ms. Emily herself. In her heyday she was a beautiful socialite, a southern belle - like a beautiful American Beauty hothouse rose. Yet as she matured she displayed the thorns that could cut and wound. Her personality was prickly and forbade one from getting close to her even though one might be tempted by the fragrance or beauty of the rose itself. The thorns became too much for those who may have wanted to get close. Toby became the gardener who fed the rose and sheltered it from outsiders. Emily's rose briefly re-bloomed for Homer, but in the end, it faded and died as she did --- leaving only a lingering fragrance and dusty petals."

"Sunago" (1999) agrees: "I think the entire concept of a rose is interesting here. Think about what a rose IS. It's beautiful, soft, unique, special, significant as a symbol for love, etc... Yet, through all that beauty and splendor, the rose has thorns. In some ways, I think "A Rose for Emily" is a commentary on love in her life. Her father's love protected her and cared for her, but drove all the men in her life away. Not only that, but Homer gave her an object for affection, but he did not return the love she gave him. With that in mind, the ending isn't so strange. She loved the only way she knew how: the way of the Rose... beautiful on the outside, and soft in places, but sharp, harsh, and painful at the stem."

Ann (2001) presents the idea of a "country rose": "Since the setting is earlier (1800's or early 1900's) and in a more rural area/little town, I put the two together to make the 'country rose,' a popular term in home makers magazines. It means the old fashioned, yet fresh rose from the early 1900's or so. As the town began to modernize Emily felt the need to cling tightly to her 'country rose': her old fashioned house is the best and most obvious example. Therefore, Emily's 'rose' is her past life, and it is personal because she is the last of her generation, sadly. That's my thought - I like the others too: that Homer and her dad were roses to be pressed and kept forever, but I'm not so fond of Emily being a rose since she can't 'have' herself as the title implies."