A Rose for Emily

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Miss Emily’s Hair Symbol Icon
In a sense, one of our greatest sources of insight into Miss Emily’s character, who she is and how she changes, is (shockingly enough) her hair. For example, after her father dies, Miss Emily falls ill for a long time; when she reappears in public, “her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl.” Earlier Miss Emily denies that her father is really dead, and her subsequent girlish haircut only seems like a subtle affirmation of this denial, a sign that she still thinks of herself as daddy’s little girl, as it were. Later, after Homer Barron disappears into the Grierson house, Miss Emily is next seen with “iron-gray” hair, “like the hair of an active man.” First, like an iron helmet, the “iron-gray” hair suggests that Miss Emily has something to protect—and indeed she is protecting a dreadful secret: Homer’s murder. Second, that her hair resembles the hair of an active man suggests that Miss Emily has rejected her community’s norms for female conduct, which she indeed has, albeit perversely so, in asserting her control over Homer by murdering him. And, finally, it is only by discovering a strand of Miss Emily’s hair on a pillow next to Homer’s corpse that the townspeople realize just how damaged, even criminally insane Miss Emily was. Given all of this, we might conclude that Miss Emily’s hair symbolizes both the woman’s turbulent mental life as well as her radical isolation from her community.

Miss Emily’s Hair Quotes in A Rose for Emily

The A Rose for Emily quotes below all refer to the symbol of Miss Emily’s Hair. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Modern Library edition of A Rose for Emily published in 1993.
Section 5 Quotes

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 irony-gray hair.

Related Characters: The townspeople (speaker), Miss Emily Grierson
Related Symbols: Miss Emily’s Hair
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes during Miss Emily's funeral, after the townspeople discover the corpse of Homer Barron in Miss Emily's room.

The indentation on the second pillow and the "strand of iron-gray hair" (presumably Miss Emily's) are evidence that Miss Emily did indeed sleep with Homer's corpse. This is what Aristotle in his literary criticism would call the "anagnorisis," or the scene of recognition, where the townspeople and the reader at least see just how horrifically oppressed and deranged Miss Emily was (and where the mysteries presented previously in the story are resolved). Earlier Miss Emily had denied her father's death, and here she goes further and lives with a corpse as though it were alive. The image of Miss Emily sleeping next to the corpse is also one the story associates with the relationship between the townspeople and their dead Southern heritage.

Dust is a common image in Faulkner's work; here, as elsewhere, it suggests stasis (for dust only settles on what doesn't move), humiliation, and mortality. Recall also that dust appears earlier in the story, when the Aldermen visit Miss Emily's house about the taxes, for example. The image accumulates a sense of fatality and despair as the story unfolds. 


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Miss Emily’s Hair Symbol Timeline in A Rose for Emily

The timeline below shows where the symbol Miss Emily’s Hair appears in A Rose for Emily. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 3
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
...fell ill for a long time. When next seen by the townspeople, she had a girlish haircut and looked “tragic and serene.” Around this time, a construction company, which the town authorities... (full context)
Section 4
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
When the townspeople next saw Miss Emily in person, she had grown fat and her hair had turned an “iron-gray.” From that time on, her door was always closed, save for... (full context)
Section 5
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
...noticed the indentation of another head, and one person lifted from the pillow “a long strand of iron-gray hair ”—Miss Emily’s. (full context)