Theme of Death in William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily
William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is a tragic tale of a Southern aristocrat, Miss Emily Grierson, who is the subject of a town's obsession. The narrator, a member of the town, tells the story of what transpires in a decaying old Southern house that is always under the watchful eye of the townspeople. They witness Miss Emily's life, her father's death, her turn to insanity and the death of both her and her lover. The theme of death runs throughout this tale, which is understandable considering the events that take place in the story. Faulkner uses foreshadowing to foretell events that will transpire later in the story. Because of this foreshadowing, a reader may not be shocked when a strange turn in the story occurs, because, it may seem familiar to him. Faulkner's first use of foreshadowing begins with the death of Miss Emily. The main character does not usually die in the first sentence of most works of fiction, but here Faulkner is foretelling the deaths of other characters that will follow. The reader will learn more about Emily's life and death as the story unfolds.
Emily is only described when she is late in her life and then only as being like a "skeleton" in an "obese" body and looking "bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water". Here, Faulkner is using simile in his description of Emily to foreshadow the skeletal remains of Homer, her lover, who is found dead later. Miss Emily is not seen for years after the disappearance of Homer. When she is finally seen, she is described as being fatter than before and with her hair beginning to turn gray. Her hair continues to turning gray until it becomes "pepper and salt" in color "like an active man". Calling Emily's hair like "an active man", Faulkner is alluding to Homer, whom he describes as a gregarious man. This description of Emily's hair is important, because one of Emily's hairs will be found next to Homer's body, and it also shows how Emily is decaying like the house and items inside. Early in the story Emily writes a letter on stationary of an "archaic shape" and with "fading ink". The references here are to the way she is always described growing older and decaying. Even Emily's house shares her "short squat" characteristic and "coquettish decay".
The insanity of Miss Emily is also foretold in A Rose for Emily. When the body of Homer is found in her bed, the reader can understand that Emily killed him, because her mental stability had been questioned a number of times. The narrator begins these allusions to her mental state when he tells how the mayor, Colonel Sartoris, bestows a special tax exemption upon Miss Emily. Colonel Sartoris makes up a story so unbelievable that it is described as so outlandish that "only a woman could have believed it". Later, the townspeople talk about her great-aunt, the lady Wyatt, who had gone completely crazy. They...