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A Rose for Emily: Characters & Symbolism

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  • 0:00 Background on 'A Rose…
  • 0:52 Characters in 'A Rose…
  • 4:25 Symbolism in 'A Rose…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This lesson details the characters and symbolism in William Faulkner's Southern Gothic story, 'A Rose for Emily.' In this lesson, you will take a deep look into the lonely life of a woman in a small Southern town.

Background on 'A Rose for Emily'

The news spreads quickly among the citizens of Jefferson: Emily Grierson is dead. The last member of a proud antebellum family - and the last owner of a rapidly deteriorating antebellum mansion - has finally passed on. The townspeople can't wait to enter her dilapidated home and inspect what became of the woman who lived there.

In William Faulkner's 1930 story, 'A Rose for Emily,' everyone has their own idea of who Emily Grierson was and why she behaved so strangely. But they have no clue of what they will find inside the walls of Emily's home, where, much like the house itself, their made up ideas of Emily, her long dead father, and her long lost lover Homer Barron will crumble to dust.

Characters in 'A Rose for Emily'

The characters in 'A Rose for Emily' are Emily Grierson, her father Mr. Grierson, her suitor Homer Barron, Emily's long-time servant Tobe, and the townspeople of Jefferson, including Colonel Sartoris and Judge Stevens, both former mayors of Jefferson.

Emily

As the main character, Emily Grierson is shadowy and mysterious in the minds of the citizens in her town. She is the last of an old family that does not follow the conventions of what is expected of someone of their social standing. Emily's father controls her every movement and does not permit any of her suitors to call. Once he dies, she holds his body for three days, claiming that he is not dead.

As the story progresses, Emily interprets her life through forms of control, and this plays into her interactions with the town, and more specifically, her relationship with her suitor Homer Barron. She is prideful and reclusive, leading the townspeople to speculate on her life and to judge her based on how she interacts with Barron and how she keeps (or doesn't keep) her house.

Emily eventually locks herself away in the dusty, decaying house while she grows older and more feeble. She has very little human contact. At the end of the story, Emily shocks the town with the secrets she has been keeping in her upstairs room, with her mental condition evident by the gray hair on the pillow next to Homer Barron's decaying body.

Mr. Grierson

Mr. Grierson, Emily's father, sets the tone for her narrative of solitude and control. He makes himself the central figure in Emily's life, chasing away her suitors with a horsewhip and exerting his influence over every aspect of their home - something that does not ebb after his death. When he dies, Emily cannot come to terms with his passing for three days, despite the women in town coming to pay their condolences.

Homer Barron

Homer Barron is the Yankee foreman of the construction company hired to pave the town's sidewalks. He shows an interest in Emily, despite her reclusiveness and older age, and takes her on buggy rides around town. Homer is shown as an eternal bachelor and not serious about his relationship with Emily. She then exerts the control that for her means love, by poisoning Homer so that he will never leave her. When the upstairs room is opened at the end of the story, his decomposing body is found lying on the bed.

Tobe

Tobe, the servant in the Grierson house, is the only person to have contact with Emily in the later years of her life. He is assumed to be privy to all of her secrets and probably knows what she did to Homer Barron. Tobe never reveals Emily's confidences, despite the prying of the townspeople, and he is not seen again after her death.

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