The Analysis of Literary Devices in A Rose for Emily Essay Example

Short stories are often successful in projecting a semblance of simplicity due to their laconic nature. However, a well-versed short story writer can compensate for the shorter length by utilizing various literary elements to make it just as intricate as a longer story. Such is the case in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” The short story follows the mysterious existence of the late Emily Grierson, as was perceived by her fellow townspeople, and the secrets revealed following her passing. On the surface, Faulkner’s message seems fairly straightforward, but to fully grasp it one must examine the complex use of literary devices that he incorporates into the story. “A Rose for Emily” intricately conveys the theme of the dangers of isolation through symbolism of the color yellow, characterization of Emily through the change of her hair, and point of view through collective narration.

One of the aforementioned literary devices that presents the theme is William Faulkner’s symbolic implementation of the color yellow. The first instance of this symbolism contributing to the theme is when Emily is seen out with her new significant other, Homer. “Presently we began to see [Homer] and Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in the yellow-wheeled buggy and the matched team of bays from the livery stable” (3.1). In this quote, the color yellow is used to show a happy moment in Emily’s life, as she is not yet a recluse. This contributes to the theme of isolation because it shows that she has positive experiences when she is socializing outdoors, which contrasts with the goings-on of her later seclusion.

The yellow wheels also symbolize that she is going somewhere; her life has direction. Another instance of symbolism of the color yellow comes later in the story, when Emily is seen again with Homer. “Later we said, ‘Poor Emily’ behind the jalousies as they passed on Sunday afternoon in the glittering buggy, Emily with her head high and Homer Barron with his hat cocked and a cigar in his teeth, reins and whip in a yellow glove” (4.1). This quote depicts the happiness Emily feels when she is out with Homer, as opposed to being trapped in her house.

The yellow glove symbolizes a sense of control. It is holding the whip and the reins and therefore dictates the actions of the horse. Emily has control over her life before she becomes isolated and loses her mind. She is described as having her “head held high,” indicating that she is proud and confident. The final instance of the color yellow used as a symbol is toward the end of the story, when Emily is found dead. “She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight” (4.12). The color yellow has followed Emily all the way through her volatile life. It has aged with Emily. It now has a negative connotation as the hue of an aged, moldy object. A contrast is also present from the earlier uses of yellow where it was describing objects found outside (such as the “glittering” yellow-wheeled buggy) to now, where the pillow has deteriorated. The pillow is an example of things, as well as people, that eventually will become “yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight.” Living as a solitary without contact with the outdoors will definitely cause one’s somatic condition to deteriorate. Therefore, the symbolism of the color yellow throughout the story shows the theme that isolation is dangerous.

Another literary device used to depict the theme is Emily's characterization by the changes in her hair throughout the story. For example, after her father passes away and she is ailed by grief, she isolates herself in her home for awhile. The townspeople describe her appearance after she finally comes outside. “SHE WAS SICK for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows--sort of tragic and serene” (3.1). This quote presents the theme because it depicts the effects of Emily’s liberation from confinement. Earlier in the story, the townspeople had remarked on “all the young men her father had driven away” (2.15).

She is now free to go out into the world and have relationships without the overbearing judgement of her father. Able to embrace the carefree attitude she would have otherwise exhibited in her youth, Emily takes on the appearance of a girl, happy-go-lucky and ready to put herself out there. An additional characterization occurs following the disappearance of Emily’s fiancé, after she had been isolated for a while. “When we next saw Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray. During the next few years it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray, when it ceased turning. Up to the day of her death at seventy-four it was still that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man” (4.6). After her last chance to be wed is gone, Emily’s hair begins to gray and deteriorate, as does her mental state. Describing her hair as “iron-gray” is an allusion to the iron shackles that slaves were held in during the time, showing that Emily is a slave to her loneliness. Her hair color progressively becomes more and more intense as she grows older. This shows her ongoing spiral into insanity as her years in isolation continue.

The last time that Emily’s hair is referenced in the story is at the end, when she is discovered deceased along with her fiancé, Homer.  “Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (5.7). The significance of the repetition of classifying Emily’s hair as “iron-gray” is now emphasized, because the strand found on the pillow was undeniably hers. This shows the danger of isolation because she became so lonely that she resorted to sleeping next to her dead fiancé. Thus, the dangers of confinement are revealed in the depiction of Emily’s loneliness through her hair. 

The point of view of the story plays a very important role in displaying the danger of isolation. It is told from a collective first person point of view, through the eyes of the townspeople witnessing Emily’s spiral into insanity. This effect is demonstrated after Emily’s father dies and she begins to disgrace her community with overt displays of affection. “So THE NEXT day we all said, ‘She will kill herself’; and we said it would be the best thing” (4.1). Emily’s whole town has turned against her, because of romantic feelings that were not previously expressible due to her father isolating her. Their opposition is so strong that the entire community wishes death upon her. Isolation alienated Emily because she never learned the socially acceptable manner of which to have a relationship, and now her reputation is suffering on a large scale. Another case of point of view supporting the theme happens when Homer disappears for a while. “We were a little disappointed that there was not a public blowing-off, but we believed that he had gone on to prepare for Miss Emily's coming, or to give her a chance to get rid of the cousins” (4.4).

This instance is an accurate portrayal of the dangers of isolation because Emily’s seclusion from the rest of the town has caused her to be viewed as a source of entertainment rather than part of the community. The town as a whole wants her to make a spectacle of herself for their own enjoyment since they are so fascinated by how different she is from them. Additionally, the negative effects of seclusion are present upon Emily’s death, after the community is notified of her passing.  “We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro” (4.10). Emily was so isolated that none of the townspeople even knew that she was dying. They had essentially forgotten about her, and her death may have been prevented if not for her extreme isolation. The collective point of view of the story really drives home how isolated Emily was from everyone else, and the negative consequences of that isolation. 

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner has a much deeper meaning than what meets the eye. Through symbolism of the color yellow, the reader can see the contrast between the positive effects of going outside and the negative effects of becoming a recluse in one's home. Characterization of Miss Emily through her hair shows the spiral into insanity that an isolated person can endure. The collective point of view, furthermore, depicts how people alienate those who are isolated and eventually forget about them. Faulkner captures a tragically beautiful depiction of a problem that is still present even almost a century later. People are barricaded in their homes by their own madness, with nobody on the outside who cares enough to save them from themselves.  Through symbolism, characterization, and point of view, Faulkner shows that isolation leads to danger.



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