Symbols and South in Faulkner’s and O’Connor’s Stories Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Feb 25th, 2021


Faulkner and O’Connor’s short stories focus on tragic and disturbing events that end with the death of the leading characters. In Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, the house is used symbolically to represent a dying southern history and a sign of southern Gothic as it creates a frightening scene for anyone entering Emily’s house. In O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, the author uses a penny to demonstrate a departure from conservative southern experience to reformed cultural landscapes, while combining the racial colors and description of an apocalyptic uprising of African Americans. In the two stories, the authors use symbolism to portray how the southerners’ dark past is gradually fading under the influence of modernity and Northerners’’ ideologies.


In O’Connor’s short story, the author uses a penny to illustrate a change in ideologies, perceptions, and racial equality. In Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, the author uses the symbolism of a house to portray the fading values of the south, while exposing dark secrets held by the conservative southerners. In the two stories, the authors use symbolism to portray how the southerners’ dark and grotesque past is gradually fading under the influence of modernity and Northerners’ ideologies.

Symbolism and Southern Gothic in “A Rose for Emily”

Faulkner uses Emily’s house to symbolize the southerners’ past and culture. Faulkner starts by identifying the street upon which the house was built, as having been “our most select street” (Faulkner, 2007, p. 12). The author compares the current state of the street with its historical magnificence and refers to the street’s current state as an eyesore. In the story, Miss Emily’s stay in the decaying house shows her strong attachment to the past, while the presence of Homer Barron in Emily’s life represents modernity. Homer brought a Yankee style into Emily’s life and immediately created speculations among Emily’s neighbor over the compatibility of Emily and Homer’s conflicting character traits.

According to the story, the only other person to have entered Emily’s house was Tobe, a Negro cook, and carpenter. The use of the word Negro and the emphasis on the Negro’s obedience and loyalty symbolizes the end of the last traces of slavery. The Southern regions gradually embraced change and modernization. The symbolism relates to a southern experience referred to as southern gothic (Gaylard, 2008, p. 2).

In the short story, the house is inaccessible by neighbors and it elicits suspicions ranging from reeking alleys, dark and dusty rooms, and uncertainty of Homer’s fate. The house remained closed from outside as the author says, “The Negro man went in and out with the market basket, but the front door remained closed” (Faulkner, 2007, p. 14). In some instances, strong foul smells reeked from the premises and prompted the neighbors’ intervention to identify the source of the smell. Although the investigators associated the smell to cotton wagons and locusts, the smell came from one of Emily’s rooms where Homer lay dead.

Emily poisoned Homer after realizing he was only interested in money after investing her wealth in preparing for their marriage. The house generates disturbing and terrifying thoughts of the numerous activities taking place behind the covers of darkness and dust. It represents a series of family secrets passed from one generation to another. Although the entire region was embracing modernization and free will, the house residents remained reserved and adamant about the historical practices and lifestyles.

After Emily’s death, the Negro disappeared through the back door and was never seen again. The story demonstrates a strong disconnection between the past and the present using Emily’s house as a symbol of the past, standing in the middle of advanced and modernized neighbors. Similarly, it represents southern gothic due to its darkness, solitude, haunting activities, and death.

Symbolism and Southern Gothic in “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

The author uses a penny as a symbolic representation of the conservative southern states. When Carver sees Julian’s mother, he becomes attracted to him and giggles slyly at her. Attempts to discourage his behavior do not succeed and he proceeds to sit behind her across the aisle. When the bus stopped, Julian’s mother talks of her intention to give the boy a nickel but Julian disagrees. Julian’s mother finds a penny and rushes towards the boy amid protest from her son.

However, Carver’s mother reacts violently and hits back at Julian’s mother and shouts “He don’t take nobody’s pennies!” (O’Connor, n.d, par. 43). The penny is a symbolic representation of African Americans’ freedom from slavery. The southern states were the last among American states to ban slavery. At the start of the story, Julian does not like public transport due to a recent integration policy that allowed blacks and whites to travel together. The symbolic representation of a penny illustrates changing cultures and beliefs. African Americans were realizing their autonomy and free will in the region. Pennies were common among slave owners, who offered stipends to slaves as a show of superiority.

The symbolism in the short story relates to southern gothic by generating a mood of faded grandeur. The author introduces Julian’s mother as a proud, racist, and imposing person. She has minimal regard for the African Americans and only fantasizes about the plantations that gave the place its identity. However, the attack from the courageous and the imposing black woman reveals an apocalypse of Julian’s mother’s failure. The incident sets her to reflect upon the incident happening around her surroundings. The author describes the houses surrounding Julian’s house as “liver-colored monstrosities of a uniform ugliness though no two were alike” (O’Connor, n.d, par. 4).

The author explores the conflicts between Julian and his mother, especially on issues related to racial discrimination and racial balances in the community. Although Julian’s mother finds the neighbors as inappropriate and only identifies them as dirty squatting children, the author tries to use the negativity against the character. A glum mood is established around the life of Julian’s mother. At the start of the story, her blood pressure is up and she has been instructed to lose twenty pounds. Her life is stuck between maintaining her pride and conservative character and embracing the change expanding from the Northern states.

The excessive use of black power is an attempt to generate symbolic apocalypse awaiting Julian’s mother. The color is associated with darkness and other negative issues. The use of black power demonstrates a significant change in the south. Julian understands the impact of change and tries to convince his mother to adopt. However, Julian’s mother holds stereotyped perceptions about African Americans and tries to extend the slavery behaviors to the black boy. The reaction of Carver’s mother exposes the uprising of minority groups, hitherto undermined and prejudiced due to their skin color.

The author connects the penny’s symbolism to a changing southern culture and the extension of northern principles that fought slavery and discrimination. When the black woman refuses the penny, the author demonstrates the increase in black power and preparation for the downfall of Julian’s mother. The story explores the life of Julian’s mother and exposes her arrogance. The apocalypse of southern gothic is fulfilled when Julian tells her mother, “That was your black double” in reference to a black woman (O’Connor, n.d, par. 64). She does not change her perceptions and beliefs even after being challenged and corrected by her son.


Faulkner, W. (2007). A Rose for Emily. Clive, IA: Perfection Learning Corporation.

Gaylard, G. (2008). The Postcolonial Gothic: Time and Death in Southern African Literature. Journal of Literary Studies, 24(4), 1-18.

O’Connor, F. (n.d). Everything That Rises Must Converge. Web.

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