16. Symbolism

But what does it meeeaaan??

But what does it meeeaaan??

     Look! There! Did you see that object that really meets more than the eye can see? It’s what we in the biz like to call symbolism :D
     When an object, number, color, etc. reappears more than once throughout a story (funny how that keeps showing up), it’s known as Symbolism. Similarly, if it appears only once but holds significant meaning, it’s known as an Emblem. So, once = emblem, more than once = symbol. Easy as pie.
     Writing symbolism in a story is important because it could 1) show foreshadowing, and 2) challenges the reader to participate by analyzing what that symbol or emblem means. Overall, symbolism just adds to the story and makes it less flat.
     For examples I’m going to look at the emblems and symbols from A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner.



A ROSE For Emily

The very first emblem we see is actually in the title. This is the first and only time in the story we see a “rose.” The deeper meaning here comes from the context. If you haven’t read the story yet, I recommend you do so, before I spoil the ending right now :p (Link). It was much more common back in the day for women to press flowers—or roses—between the pages of a book; so, if you’ve read to the end of the short story (last chance!) you know that she kept a dead body in her bed…pressed between the sheets…like a flower…see the correlation??

So that is why the emblem in the title has a deeper meaning, and really, how the title relates at all to the story.




The color yellow/gold appears six times throughout this five-part short story. Now the color meaning usually translates to happiness, the sun or Sunday (which is also repeated 5 times), beginnings, joy, wealth (physical/emotional), etc. So, one has to ask, “Faulkner, why did you put such a vibrant color throughout your perverse story?”

I think the answer lies within the timing of the story. We mainly see these colors when good ol’ Homer Barron comes around, which we can equate the color yellow with him. Also, we see this color in the beginning when the house is being described (years later) as “once been white,” which we can assume then the house has ‘yellowed’ over time since  good ol’ Homer left (Faulkner 99).


This number appears—wouldn’t ya guess it—three times through the story. Now, one has to ask themselves—why three? Considering this story is about death and not wanting the dead to be dead, I would have to say that this number equates to a biblical reference of Jesus rising after three days.

Idols/Sacred Items

Twice Emiliy is referred to an “Idol.” Once as “a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows—sort of tragic and serene” (Faulkner 101). Again, as if she were a statue sitting on a table, and then as the cabal.

I think this symbolism is repeated so many times, because Faulkner is trying to put it in our head that Emily is untouchable, like some sort of god almost, and in the end we see that time and time again Miss Emily got pass after pass from the towns people, and ultimately she got away with, at least, keeping a dead body in her house for many many years.


     As demonstrated, simple objects or concepts can have deeper meanings in literature, and, in fact, bring another level to reading stories.
     Linked below is A Rose For Emily, by William Faulkner. If you have not read it, I highly recommend that you do :) Likewise, I challenge you to attempt to analyze the story yourself without looking it up on the internet ;) Here’s some questions for you to consider while reading it:

            Did you see any other symbolism or emblems besides the ones I found?

            Who’s body was in the bed at the end?

            Is this story written linearly?

Who do you think the narrator is? Is our narrator reliable?

If you feel compelled to do so, answer the questions in a comment below or at my twitter! :) @TheNicole_C

A Rose For Emily: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html


Nicole Michelle

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Ed. Michael Meyer. New York: Bedford, 2013. 99-105. Print.

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