Theory of Symbolism in a Reading of “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner and “The Symbol” by Virginia Woolf

The XX century was marked by the closer investigation of the human psychology. The literature, being the reflection of the society, started paying attention to this aspect of humans’ life as well: “The attempt to create human consciousness in fiction is a modern attempt to analyze human nature”(Humphrey 6).

Thus, stream-of-consciousness narrative style has been developed; this style was characterized by the peculiar techniques which made the writings very personal. The brightest representatives of this style are considered to be Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Dorothy Richardson, who were followed by many others.

Being very personal and even intimate, the stories written in the stream-of-consciousness narrative style are very symbolic; and it is quite logical because it is a well-known fact that people think in images and symbols. Two significant examples of such kind of writings are A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner and The Symbol by Virginia Woolf.

The first story deals with the description of Miss Emily’ life and the second one depicts the Mrs. Ivimey’s perception of life. It is very interesting that these two stories present the third-person narration, though The Symbol has passages of first-person narration (extracts from the lady’s letter to her elder sister), for it seems to be more likely to find personal thoughts – the narrator’s stream of consciousness.

But this technique (the use of third-person narration is quite common for the literary style under consideration). In terms of the symbolic nature of these stories it is necessary to point out that the main symbols here represent the eternal notions of our being: decay in the course of time and death. In the story about Emily the central issue is the course of time and decay, and a lot of symbols depict this idea.

Two of the major symbols are the house of Miss Emily and Miss Emily herself. After long years the house and his inhabitant grew older, they stopped developing and became the monument to the past (Curry 391).

Another very significant symbol of decay and time passing is hair; for there is no exact quantity of years that passes, Faulkner uses the color of the hair as an indicator of time: her hair was turning gray. As for the symbols used by Virginia Woolf it is necessary to mention the mountain, and Mrs. Ivimey’s writing.

The mountain is a symbol “for the fragility and euphemerality of human life” (Holly 61). It becomes scenery for tragedies of human lives, where life and death are too close. And the symbolic representation of death is “the elliptical breaking off of the sentence” and “zigzag lines in the letter” which are the result of woman’s despair, when she witnesses the climbers falling down (Holly 61).

These simple sentence marks reveal the transience and uncertainty of a human’s life (Whitworth 117). And it is also worth of mentioning that the very title of the story The Symbol is very significant for Mrs. Ivimey’s tries to define the mountain as a symbol, which reveals the stream-of-consciousness narrative style to greater extent (Briggs 106).

So the stories under consideration depict the main issues of the whole humanity by means of symbols and the stream-of-consciousness narrative style makes them more vivid to the reader. As if the reader is not reading the story but is thinking about life and death, time and the past.

Works Cited

Briggs, Julia. Reading Virginia Woolf. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

Curry, Renee R. “Gender And Authorial Limitation In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” The Mississippi Quarterly 47.3 (1994): 391+. Questia. 2010.

Holly, Henry. Virginia Woolf And The Discourse Of Science. The Aesthetics of Astronomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Humphrey, Robert. Stream Of Consciousness In The Modern Novel. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962.

Whitworth, M.H. Virginia Woolf. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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