A Rose for Emily

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The Grierson Family House Symbol Analysis

The Grierson Family House Symbol Icon
Built during or just after the Reconstruction Era in the 1870s, the Grierson family house, passed down from Emily’s father to his daughter, was once grand and lovely, an embodiment of Southern pride, and built in a style of ornate architecture of which defiantly recalls the plantation houses of the Old South from before the Civil War. This house and those like it are monuments that symbolize for the townspeople of Jefferson the glorified aristocratic past of the South. But the house is also a more complex symbol than that. It is, after all, physically decaying—the narrator even calls it “an eyesore”—and the highly respected neighborhood in which the house is located is being encroached upon by garages and cotton gins, structures of industrialization, signs of cultural and social progress. As such, the house also comes to symbolize just how untenable the culture of the Old South is, its moral ugliness in its foundation on slavery and its irrelevance in the face of the modern world—a world increasingly reliant not on agriculture but industry, a world that increasingly holds not aristocratic but democratic values. However, as ugly as the house is on the outside, the inside is pure ghastliness and nightmare, a literal tomb where Homer Barron’s corpse rots. In this, its condition reflects that of Miss Emily herself: more and more impoverished as the years pass, more and more decrepit, both house and owner present merely a proud face to the public which conceals eccentric desires and dreadful secrets within. Moreover, Faulkner is suggesting that the Southerners’ attempt to freeze time and in some ways relive their Confederate past is, at its core, as profoundly unnatural and grotesque as Miss Emily’s preservation of her dead sweetheart; it is in this way that his story breaks down the walls of Southern nostalgia to reveal the social and moral harms thereof.

The Grierson Family House Quotes in A Rose for Emily

The A Rose for Emily quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Grierson Family House. 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 1 Quotes

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the woman mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

Related Characters: The townspeople (speaker), Miss Emily Grierson, Tobe
Related Symbols: The Grierson Family House
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes at the very beginning of the short story, even though chronologically the event it narrates comes after most of the story's other events. By beginning the story at its end, the townspeople who act as communal narrators repress the painful events of their past and focus instead on the monumental memory of the pre-Civil War South that is so important to them. And yet as the story moves back from this moment into the past, and then back again to what the funeral-goers discover in the house, the horrors of the past prove inescapable, both in Miss Emily's personal story and in the larger story of the slave-owning South.

Miss Emily, like her once grand house, is "a fallen monument" in the sense that she represents for her community a glorious aristocratic past, but this past has been rendered painful and shabby after the Civil War and modernization. One irony of this passage is that this Southern community is so committed to preserving its idealization of the past that it never investigates that past from the inside—the inhumanity and injustice of slavery in the South, the psychological damage done to masters and slaves alike—just as no one has entered the Grierson family house in years. 

Notice also the different motives men and women have for visiting the house. The men dehumanize Miss Emily by treating her as merely a monument of their Southern heritage, while the women violate her posthumous privacy out of curiosity, even nosiness. In idealizing Miss Emily, the townspeople ironically neglect and even violate her humanity.

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It [the Grierson family house] was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of the neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps…

Related Characters: The townspeople (speaker), Miss Emily Grierson
Related Symbols: The Grierson Family House
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrating townspeople give this description just after telling how they've come to the Grierson family house for Miss Emily's funeral.

The house, built in the 1870s, during or just after Reconstruction, once embodied Southern pride. With its aristocratic grandeur, it defiantly recalls the plantation houses of the Old South where slaves were forced to labor before the Civil War. The house is also a conspicuous sign of luxurious wealth.

However, only the memory of the house remains intact; in reality, it is in decay, doomed for obliteration, like many reminders of the Old South (including "the august names of the neighborhood"). Progress, technology, and industry, represented in this passage by garages and cotton gins, are encroaching on what was once a slave-based, aristocratic, agricultural society. The garages and the vehicles they house threaten to render the gallantry of horse and carriage obsolete. The cotton gins (machines that separate cotton fibers from seed) had previously made cotton extremely profitable and expanded the plantation economy of the South, but ironically they now encroach on and obliterate the very neighborhoods they once made so grand.

Throughout the story, the townspeople ascribe Miss Emily's qualities to her house, as though the two were one and the same. Here the house is described as "stubborn and coquettish," qualities a house can't literally have but which Miss Emily does seem to exhibit to some extent. This is consistent with the townspeople's idealization of Miss Emily, which ironically reduces her to the status of an inanimate monument.

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The Grierson Family House Symbol Timeline in A Rose for Emily

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Grierson Family House appears in A Rose for Emily. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
...Emily Grierson died, all the townspeople of Jefferson, Mississippi, attended the funeral held in her house, the interior of which no one save an old black servant (later identified as Tobe)... (full context)
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
...response, the authorities of Jefferson dispatched members of the Board of Alderman to Miss Emily’s house. Tobe showed the men into the dusty interior; a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father... (full context)
Section 2
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
...as Homer Barron) had deserted her—in the matter of a bad smell issuing from her house. Miss Emily had become reclusive. When the smell developed, some women suspected that it was... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
So the next night, after midnight, four men went to Miss Emily’s house in secret to investigate the smell and to attempt to neutralize it by sprinkling lime... (full context)
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
...to be too proud. When her father died and she was left with only the house, the town could at last pity her, humbled and humanized as she was by her... (full context)
Section 3
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
...black delivery boy brought her the package, and the druggist didn’t come back. At her house, Miss Emily opened the package to see the words “For rats” written on the box... (full context)
Section 4
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
...cousins indeed departed, and within three days Homer returned. Tobe admitted him into Miss Emily’s house—and that was the last the townspeople saw of Homer Barron, and of Miss Emily 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
During Miss Emily’s funeral, held in what had been her house, Tobe admitted the ladies of the town inside, all whispering and glancing about. Tobe himself... (full context)