Rather than stating the true meaning of his works, William Faulkner generally uses symbolism to portray the depth of his tales. Throughout the story “A Rose For Emily,” time is a continuous theme that is portrayed through symbols. The past, present, and future are represented by different people, places, and things. One of which such symbols, the main character herself, represents the essence of the past through her father, her house, and her lover. Historically, the Grierson name was one of the most respected names in Jefferson. Throughout his lifetime, Mr.
Grierson played various roles in the community to further the reputation of his name and to earn his family a great deal of honor. He also, however, had and air of superiority about him. His attitude toward women, as evident in the treatment of his daughter, reflects his old-fashioned ways and his inability, or his lack of desire, to move on into the future. Throughout ‘s childhood, her father believed that “none of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily.” Mr. Grierson did not allow his grown daughter, even at the age of thirty, to make her own decisions.
Moreover, he did not feel it was her place to act on her own behalf. Miss Emily willingly accepted her role in the household. The name and the attitudes that Mr. Grierson passed on to his daughter Emily symbolically opposed the change that was going on around them.
Even after his death, Miss Emily kept her father’s decaying body in the house. Following in her father’s footsteps, she clung tightly to the past telling everyone in the town he was still alive and refusing to accept the her father’s death. Although the law intervened and buried her father, the “crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father” further emphasized the great effect he had on her lifestyle and mindset. Miss Emily was rarely seen by the public after the death of her father. She confined herself to her house to bask in the sentimental memories of her father.
Mr. Grierson had bought his family a house that was located in what, at that time, was one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Jefferson. The street they lived was recognized by the community as prominent and seemingly royal and the houses were grand and picturesque. The “big, squarish frame… had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies.” However, even the “stubborn” Grierson house had been weathered and worn by the lapse of time. Even the interior of the house was evidence of the lack of progression.
“It smelled of dust and disuse.” The leather of the furniture was cracked, and when the chairs were sat upon, “a faint dust rose about [the] thighs.” The house seemed to be submerged in shadows, refusing to admit the light of the future. However, the times began to change and the town moved on toward the future. The houses were replaced by cotton gins and auto garages until only Miss Emily’s house was left. These changes infer the gradual replacement of the past with the present industrialization.
Also, the replacement of the distinguished communities represented the changing attitude of the people. Rather than accepting the aristocratic attitudes of the Old South, the working class began to step up and realize their own worth, encroaching on the power the “august names” once held in Jefferson. Miss Emily’s house had become “an eyesore among eyesores” and was the last home standing. Because of this, she and her house stood as the last obstacle to the modernization that was taking place in Jefferson. The house was a visible reminder of Miss Emily’s refusal to submit herself to the changing ways. The replacement of the buildings, such as Miss Emily’s house, in Jefferson came the with the corresponding replacement of the townspeople.
The newer generation, “with its more modern ideas… became the backbone and the spirit of the town.” The long standing families moved out of Jefferson and new people moved in. They brought with them their own attitudes and novelties. This renovation caused some turmoil in the unchanging life of Emily. However, when Miss Emily finally was seen again, it was on the arm of one of these new people. Homer Barron, a Yankee, was the foreman of a construction company that entered Jefferson.
The construction company, the “mules and machinery” they came with, and Homer himself symbolize the further encroachment of the present into Miss Emily’s life of the past. Barron’s attitude toward marriage emphasized further his contrast of Emily’s symbolism of the past. While Miss Emily had traditional ideas of courting and marriage, “Homer himself had remarked… that he was not a marrying man.” Therefore, he was less interested in a monogamous relationship where he was forced to settle down. When Barron left Emily, for what appeared to the be a rendezvous with another woman, he was leaving the past behind him, looking anxiously toward change.
Upon his return, Miss Emily poisoned him with arsenic, which killed him, and prevented him from moving on toward the future. With that action, she also eliminated the only source of change she had ever accepted in her life. Once again, Miss Emily took refuge in her house and was never seen in public. Finally, after years of attempting to defeat time, Miss Emily fell victim to it.
She met the same fate as her father, her house, and Homer Barron. “Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar bemused cemetery” — where they lay representing the past.