Death in A Rose for Emily: Theme, Symbolism & Quotes

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Most people accept that death is a part of life, but Emily Grierson tries to cheat death and avoid losing those she loves in William Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily'.

Theme of Death

William Faulkner uses the theme of death to examine the bizarre life of Emily Grierson, the main character in ''A Rose for Emily''. This theme is so important to the story that Faulkner begins and ends the narrative with Emily's death. Faulkner may also have in mind the death or decay of the southern aristocracy after the American Civil War, which parallels the mental and physical decline of the main character.

These thematic connections are apparent in the story's first sentence: ''When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house . . . .''

Emily is clearly linked to a monument--a symbol of death--in this passage. Many people think of tributes to the dead or to fallen heroes when they think of monuments. Monuments are found in many cemeteries, often to remember the famous or dead who are buried there. Faulkner connects Emily to a '' fallen monument'', to reinforce the theme of decay, a reminder that all things will fall to ruin. Monuments will crumble, societies will falter, and Emily and the other townspeople will die.

Symbols of Death

Symbols of death are as pervasive as the fine dust that coats Miss Emily's house in this short story. The dust covers everything in Emily's house, and the men who go there to attempt to collect Emily's taxes notice that the hallway ''smelled of dust and disuse.'' When they are seated in the parlor, ''a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray.''

Dust coats everything in the secret room where Emily's horrifying secret is revealed and the townspeople learn that she has killed Homer Barron, her boyfriend, and kept his body. After Emily's neighbors break down the door of the secret room, they are shocked to see that ''What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.''

Emily buys poison to kill Homer.

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