Understanding the Title of "A Rose for Emily"

The Symbolism of the Rose

The cover of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"

 Perfection Learning/Amazon

"A Rose for Emily" is a short story by William Faulkner published in 1930. Set in Mississippi, the story takes place in a changing Old South and revolves around the curious history of Miss Emily, a mysterious figure. As a part of the title, the rose serves as an important symbol, and understanding the symbolism of the title is necessary for analyzing the text.


The onset of the story reveals that Miss Emily has died and the whole town is at her funeral. Thus, going off the title, the rose must play a role in or symbolize aspects of Emily's life story. Starting with the practical, the rose is probably a flower at Miss Emily's funeral. Thus, mentions of roses play a part in establishing a funeral setting.

On the theme of death, Miss Emily is unwilling to let go of the dying antebellum period. Trapped as she is in that past, a ghostly remnant of her former self, she expects everything to stay the same. Like the decaying Old South, Emily lives with decaying bodies. Instead of life, laughter, and happiness, she can only bear stagnation and emptiness. There are no voices, no conversations, and no hope.

Love, Intimacy, and Heartbreak

The rose is also generally viewed as a symbol of love. The flower is associated with Venus and Aphrodite, goddesses of beauty and romance, respectively, in classical mythology. Roses are often given for romantic occasions like weddings, dates, Valentine's Day, and anniversaries. Thus, perhaps the rose can be related to Emily's love life or her desire for love. 

However, the rose is also a prickly flower that can pierce the skin if you're not careful. Emily, like a thorny rose, keeps people at a distance. Her haughty demeanor and isolated lifestyle do not allow any other townspeople to get close to her. Also like a rose, she proves to be dangerous. The only person who does get significantly close to her, Homer, she murders. Emily sheds blood, the same color as the red petals of a rose. 

The rose might also have been part of Miss Emily's bridal bouquet if Homer had married her. A certain fragility and tragedy characterize the realization that simple happiness and beauty might have been hers. 

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Lombardi, Esther. "Understanding the Title of "A Rose for Emily"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/a-rose-for-emily-the-title-741273. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 28). Understanding the Title of "A Rose for Emily". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/a-rose-for-emily-the-title-741273 Lombardi, Esther. "Understanding the Title of "A Rose for Emily"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-rose-for-emily-the-title-741273 (accessed August 11, 2022).