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“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner describes the peculiar life of Miss Emily, an unmarried and allegedly wealthy woman who is the talk of the town of Jefferson. Faulkner’s use of particular literary devices can be observed throughout the entire story. He carefully uses each literary device to develop the theme in a way that is not immediately obvious to the average reader. This exceptionally clever use of literary devices is what makes
“A Rose for Emily” such a brilliant and famed story in the world of literature. Some of the most interesting literary devices that Faulkner weaves into “A Rose for Emily” are setting, symbolism, and imagery, which he uses to emphasize a theme based around the progression of time. Faulkner cunningly uses the setting of the story to place an emphasis on the theme of time. The beginning of the story, set in an American town during the late 1800s to early 1900s, appears to be established around the mystery and scrutiny of Miss Emily’s home, which is where a great deal of the story takes place.
The house, as described by the narrator, is a “big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the lightsome of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street” (Faulkner 148). From this description, it is apparent that Miss Emily’s home is of an older style and has been standing for a substantial amount of time, which signifies the old age of Miss Emily and her time spent in the town. The narrator continues, stating that “garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting it’s stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps – an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner 148).
This statement reveals to the reader that Miss Emily’s home has remained standing throughout times of change and development and is now surrounded by more modern homes and establishments. The disapproving tone of the narrator serves as a suggestion that the decayed home of Miss Emily is an undesirable reminder of the past, which emphasizes Faulkner’s theme of time. The house also reflects that Miss Emily herself has not adapted to the changes that have occurred in Jefferson and has been engulfed by the phenomenon that is time. Faulkner uses a great deal of symbolism within his work. It can even be said that the house itself doubles as the setting and a symbol because of the way it represents the past. However, some of the other symbolic objects within the story are smaller and less obvious than Miss Emily’s home. For example, it is stated Miss Emily wore a long gold chain around her neck with an “invisible” watch at the end (Faulkner 149).
Any kind of watch or clock is an obvious representation of time. But this watch, which was hidden underneath her belt, continuously ticking, is immensely symbolic of time and one of its most unpleasant effects: death. The watch is purposely placed underneath her clothing with each tick representing the heartbeat of Miss Emily. As time progresses, both the watch and Miss Emily’s heart will stop. The fact that the watch is hidden symbolizes that death is not always foreseen. Another symbol Faulkner uses to symbolize the passing of time is dust. At the end of story Faulkner uses dust to show the amount of time that had passed between Miss Emily’s creation of a creepy bridal shrine and the discovery of Homer Barron’s corpse. “Among them lay a collar and tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust,” states the narrator (Faulkner 156).
Faulkner does not use dust to provide description only. Although the collar and tie appear to have just been removed, the dust is there to symbolize that the collar and tie were actually removed long ago. The dust is truly a symbol of time and ageing as is leaves its mark on all of the stationary items within Miss Emily’s home. Faulkner uses imagery abundantly throughout his piece. One of the cleverest uses of imagery that Faulkner uses to portray time is his routine use of the color gray. The color gray is typically associated with aging, and Faulkner uses it to embody just that. He shows the reader how time has progressed throughout the story by describing the color of Miss Emily’s hair in different shades of gray. During the flashback, the narrator states, “When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray” (Faulkner 154). Then the narrator states, “During the next few years, it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt-iron gray…” (Faulkner 154).
Lastly the narrator describes Miss Emily’s hair as remaining “that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man” (Faulkner 154). Faulkner even describes the aging of Miss Emily’s servant, stating “Daily, monthly, yearly, we watched the Negro grow grayer and more stooped, going in and out with the market basket” (Faulkner 155). The way Faulkner persistently and liberally uses the color gray in this portion of the text allows the reader’s mind to create images of Miss Emily’s servant and herself becoming more and more aged, thus creating an illusion of the passage of time. Similar to the use of dust, the color gray seems like it is merely used for description. However, Faulkner carefully chose to use this color within his story in order to perpetuate the theme of time. Faulkner uses the setting of
“A Rose for Emily” as well as symbolism and imagery to portray a theme of time progression. Throughout the story, Faulkner uses different entities such as the house, the watch, dust, and the color gray to creatively create an illusion of the passing of time. Each item uniquely represents some sort of element of time, whether it is change, death, or ageing. Ultimately, Faulkner’s use of such literary devices are the most fascinating part of his work. Upon close examination, the reader is able to interpret every single line of “A Rose for Emily” in a way that is only possible because of Faulkner’s ingenious writing style.
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