William Faulkner wrote, “A Rose for Emily” at a time when society was undergoing change. The South had lost the Civil War and the southern people were finding it hard to let go of the past. Emily is the symbolic representation of this resistance to change. She becomes numb emotionally simply carrying out the routine of life without any characteristic resistance while the people around her become onlookers. Similarly, Sylvia Plath’s poem “Old Ladies Home” relates the dehumanization of the inhabitants.
The people in the Home have ceased to exist for the outside world.
The women in the Home are existing like insects quiet and without character as the people around them move about, detached and cold. Analysis of the Theme and Symbolism In Faulkner’s short story, Emily, after her father’s death she became a recluse and stopped living. Her life became a part in history and it seemed she and the people around him simply waited for her death.
She was described as, “…a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye-sockets as imagine a lighthouse-keeper’s face ought to look” (Kirszner, 58).
Faulkner shows the concept of death and how death can become a release when life becomes status quo. The reader is told in great detail about the position of Emily and her father in the town and the manner in which their life has changed. In Plath’s poem we read about the ladies wearing black and being ‘sharded’ in it. The words used to describe these women are, “Sharded in black, like beetles, Frail as antique earthenwear One breath might shiver to bits… Age wears the best black fabric Rust-red or green as lichens. ” The decay of the fabric represents the decay of their life.
The nurses call them ‘ghosts’ and the beds are said to resemble ‘coffins’. The nature of the Home and the change in their life from youthful to aged shows the contrast of life to death. The concept of death and decay is prevalent in the story by Faulkner as well for he describes the decaying house as “an eyesore among eyesores” (Kirszner, 55). The decay represents the decay of Emily’s family’s position in society. The decaying body of Homer found after Emily Greison’s death also represents how things can get corrupted when change is not accepted. Emily was so steeped in her life in the past that she could not function in the present.
Her father’s death and the death of her fiance caused her to give up on life and start a slow wait for her own death. The words Faulkner used to describe Emily and her situation included “the smell” and people going to her “slunk” around while the actual reality of Emily’s life became a tableau for the people of the town shown through the words, “We had long thought of them as tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door (Kirszner, 57).
” Both Plath and Faulkner used the symbols and imagery of decay to show the progress of death. As the story and poem progress, death becomes the ultimate goal. The words and imagery in both the texts shows the frailness of the women. Through a description of the house Faulkner showed the change in Emily’s life. Her house decayed from a mansion to one that became a representation of failure and death. The crumbling walls became a source of fascination for the people and Emily ceased to exist as a person to them, rather she became a representation of the past [Allen, 1984].
The townspeople did not try to reach out or help her, they just focused on her life in fascination. Plath too, created a picture of the old women as decaying objects rather than human beings. They are described as insects and their progression towards death becomes inevitable. The words, ‘The old women creep out here…” are used to describe them and the word ‘creep’ is similar to Faulkner’s use of ‘slink’ to show the dehumanization of Emily and the others view of her as a symbol rather than a human. We see Plath go on to write, ‘Needles knit in a bird-beaked
Counterpoint to their voices: Sons, daughters, daughters and sons, Distant and cold as photos…” The relationship between the women and their relatives is similar to the one Emily had with the townspeople. There was no warmth or love between them and the only connection was one of the past. The women’s relatives came out of a sense of obligation and duty and the visits were like looking at old photographs with no feelings. Like Faulkner writes, “Thus she passed from generation to generation – dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse (Faulkner, 5),” Emily’s life stood still.
Her relationship with the world at large became stagnant and there was nothing to associate her life with being alive. Similarly, Plath  uses the words, “Age wears the best black fabric,” to show how the women have stopped living and are in a constant state of mourning. They cling to every morsel of life and their very fragility shows the fragile threads of life and death. Conclusion: As we have seen Plath and Faulkner both wrote about the decay of life and the approach of death. They focused on the slow decomposition of human life physically and emotionally and how people become a ghost of their old selves as death approaches.
However, while conceptually the similarities in the two texts may seem extraordinary there is a basic difference between these two narrations. Faulkner, wrote more of the decay and destruction of life figuratively, and how through the resistance to change humans become corrupted in their life. He wrote more of the death of a way of life, creating Emily and her life as a symbol of societal change. Plath, on the other hand discussed death in the physical concept. She presented the decomposition of human life and the loss of individuality as the progress of old age becomes eminent.
The ladies in the poem were waiting for their death and had become mere shells of their former body. This stark contrast between the two texts creates a broader theme which suggests that without change human life ceases to exist and with the decay of the human body, life is but a wait for death.
Allen, Dennis W. “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’. ” Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4, Winter 1984, pp. 685-96. Plath, Sylvia Old Ladies Home accessed April 20, 2009 http://www. angelfire. com/tn/plath/home. html Kirszner, Laurie G. , and Stephen R. Mandell. A Rose for Emily. Fort Worth. Harcourt, 1997.