Figurative Language in A Rose for Emily

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  • 0:00 A Rose for Emily
  • 0:42 What is Figurative Language
  • 1:07 Metaphors
  • 2:11 Similes
  • 3:16 Personification & Alliteration
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

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

This lesson focuses on figurative language in William Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily'. We will quickly review the short story and then examine examples of metaphors, similes, alliteration, and personification.

A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily is a macabre short story set in the fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi. Emily Grierson, the main character, comes from an aristocratic family, and most of the townspeople believe she feels herself to be just a bit above them. It's only natural, then, that the townspeople, who narrate this grim tale, feel some satisfaction when Miss Emily's Yankee suitor, Homer Barron, apparently jilts her.

At Miss Emily's death, however, the horrifying truth is revealed. Homer never left Jefferson; in fact, Miss Emily killed him. What's more, she has been sleeping with his corpse for some forty years.

What Is Figurative Language?

Because of its straightforward plot, readers sometimes overlook Faulkner's subtle use of figurative language in A Rose for Emily. Writers use figurative language to add additional layers of meaning to a text by using literary devices such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, and personification; Faulkner uses all of these devices to convey meaning beyond the literal words he uses in A Rose for Emily.


Metaphors are stated comparisons. These comparisons can help readers better understand an idea the writer is attempting to convey. Faulkner uses several metaphors in A Rose for Emily; the first one appears in the story's first paragraph.

'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 . . . .'

Faulkner calls Emily 'a fallen monument' to the town; she has been a part of her community for so long that she seemed as fixed and permanent as a monument.

A metaphor is also used to describe what happens when the town officials attempt to collect Miss Emily's taxes. She believes that Colonel Sartoris has declared her exempt from taxation long ago, 'so she vanquished them, horse and foot . . . .' The metaphor of battle in the phrase 'horse and foot' is appropriate to the tenor of Miss Emily's conversation with the elected officials. There is little doubt that she is willing to go to war figuratively if the officials persist with their attempt to collect her taxes.


Similes are similar to metaphors, except these comparisons are implied rather than stated. Similes often use the words 'like' or 'as' in the comparison.

Faulkner uses several different similes to describe Miss Emily's physical appearance. He says, 'She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.'

When the elected officials visit, Faulkner emphasizes Emily's dark eyes: 'Her eyes looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.'

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