An important symbol from Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily” is the strand of gray hair found in the final scene of the story, beside the corpse of Emily’s one time suitor Homer Barron. “Then we noticed that in the second pillow… we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (Faulkner, 5). This hair represents a number of things for Emily Grierson, namely her pride. It was this pride which led her to become a recluse from society after failing to become married, as a good woman of that time would have. In Emily’s long gray strand we also have the symbol of her spinsterhood, as well as her secret life as the bride of Homer’s corpse. Gray hair also serves as a symbol of the passage of time, age and respected authority. This gray hair therefore is a symbol of Emily’s status as an outsider and a symbol of those traits which caused her to take drastic action when her reputation was threatened.

You're lucky! Use promo "samples20"
and get a custom paper on
"Symbolism In “A Rose for Emily”"
with 20% discount!
Order Now

Emily’s pride was quite unladylike for Southern society. Faulkner had a genuine interest in women and in the South and its expectations (Meyer, 33). In Emily Grierson, and her gray hair, Faulkner was able to illustrate how the leftover traditions of the American South of gentility were restrictive. In the case presented in this story those restrictions led to a sort of madness in terms of Emily’s behavior. In fact her gray hair is described in the story in relation to her strength, and Faulkner relates that to having the strength of a man: “When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray. During the next few years it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray, when it ceased turning. Up to the day of her death at seventy-four it was still that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man” (Faulkner, 4). Clearly Emily is not a Southern lady, but still she is bound by the community values of a small Southern town. In a different place, at a different time, she might have been able to do much more than to murder her lover in order to keep, albeit discretely, her reputation intact.

We become aware of Emily’s position and the expectations of a Southern woman because of the poison that she buys. The townspeople worry that she may kill herself when she purchases the rat poison. There is no fear that she might kill another person; women do not do such things, is the implication. Emily has already acted in a manner unbefitting a Southern lady by not getting married, but also by consorting with Homer. Homer is considered not only to be beneath her station in life, but also it is becoming increasingly clear that he does not plan to marry her either. The long gray hair shows that Emily was able to keep her pride intact by keeping Homer in a manner similar to a husband, or at least preventing him from becoming someone else’s husband. The long strand of gray hair shows us that she slept beside him at night, much as any Southern lady would lay beside her husband.

The long gray hair beside the corpse shows us that Emily was able to compensate for that which she did not have enough of in her life- control. Emily’s need for control is clear in various passages of the story, including her refusal to pay property taxes or tell the pharmacist what she wanted the poison for. While the long gray strand represented the control that Emily was able to assert secretively, it also represented her age and spinsterhood in a more direct way. Gray hair was a symbol of the time that had passed as well as a symbol of authority and control. Emily did not have control over those who gossiped about her, first over the lack of romance in her life and then over the romance that she did have with Homer. Emily was not able to control her father, who apparently was the cause of her not marrying earlier in life. Emily was not able to control Homer, and to force him to rectify her humiliating situation by marrying her. Emily was able to assert control over each of these situations by killing Homer, and then sleeping beside him in an awkward and disturbing sort of marriage. In this manner she was able to keep her self-perception of her identity and her pride.

Emily’s gray hair is also a symbol of her wasted life, as presented in the scene of her death: “She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight” (Faulkner, 5).

Gray hair appears in other places in the story. Tobe, her man servant, also goes gray with the passage of time. When the Alderman meet, at the beginning of the story, to discuss the problem of Emily having not paid taxes they are described as “greybeards” in order to reinforce their authority and respectability.

In “A Rose for Emily” Faulkner manages to convey a sad story, but one where we do not feel pity for the heroine, Miss Emily herself. The gray hair represents each of those aspects that prevents the reader from feeling empathy or sympathy for this character; her attitude of authority, her need for control, and ultimately her perversion are all contained in that image of her long strand of gray hair.