What is Rose Symbolism in Literature?

Rose Symbolism in Literature

The rose has been used in literature more than any other flower. But what does it mean when an author talks about roses? And can it have more than one meaning? Here we look at rose symbolism in literature, with definitions and examples, to discover why this flower is such a powerful literary symbol.

Roses have been used as metaphors and similes in literature since the time of William Shakespeare. We can all think of famous literary quotes from books, plays, and poems that involve roses. However, the rose can symbolize many different things and have various meanings, depending on the context in which it is used.

To better understand rose symbolism in literature, we must look at the concept of symbolism and how it works. We also need to look at the meanings of different types of roses according to the language of flowers.

What is symbolism in literature?

Symbolism is a literary device where an object or idea has a symbolic meaning. These objects and ideas are used throughout literature to convey emotions or act as omens, foreshadowing events later in the text. For example, if we keep encountering ravens or storm clouds in a text, we have a good idea that something bad is likely to happen. But, on the other hand, if the sun suddenly shines or the bird we see is a dove, we feel that peace and reconciliation are the likely outcomes.

Roses, however, can have a wide variety of symbolic meanings. While we often associate them with themes of love and beauty, this isn’t always the case. The meaning of a rose depends on whether the author concentrates on the petals, the scent, or the thorns. The color of a rose can also change its meaning in literature; we must use our knowledge of the text and its context to decipher what the rose symbolizes.

What do the different colors of roses mean?

In Victorian England, every flower was considered to have a special meaning. So if you were sending someone a bouquet, you had to consider the ‘language of flowers to ensure the flowers you sent represented the right emotions.

Roses, in particular, had different meanings depending on their color. Authors still use this language frequently – the color of a rose’s petals can provide major clues as to what a character thinks or feels.

Here are some examples of the meanings of roses according to their color.

  • Red roses. Probably the most famous example, we are all familiar with the red rose as a symbol of love in literature. A red rose symbolizes romance and passion. If the rose is a deep red, this can be a sign of the giver being ready for a deeper commitment.
  • Pink roses. Pink roses often symbolize femininity, youth, and early love. They can also represent thankfulness, gratitude, or recovery.
  • White roses. White roses usually symbolize purity and innocence. It is why they are traditionally associated with weddings. However, white roses can also represent new beginnings. Additionally, they are sometimes used to symbolize death and the next life, as these flowers are frequently found at funerals.
  • Black roses. Black roses are regularly used as a metaphor for death or dying. They can also symbolize dysfunction in a relationship. At times, however, black roses can have an opposite meaning, representing a change positively.
  • Blue roses. As the most unusual variety, blue roses are given to tell someone they are special and unique. However, in literature, they can also represent a fantasy or something unattainable.
  • Yellow roses. Yellow is the color of happiness, joy, and caring. A yellow rose represents friendship and freedom. However, in Victorian times, it could also be associated with jealousy, which is worth bearing when looking for symbolism in Victorian literature.

What are some examples of rose symbolism in literature?

Literature is full of famous examples of rose symbolism. Here are a few of the best-known rose quotes with meanings.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name, would smell as sweet.’

It is one of the most frequently quoted passages Shakespeare ever wrote. Here he uses the rose to represent the fact that the name of something doesn’t impact its beauty and goodness. Juliet wishes that her family could appreciate Romeo as an individual rather than define him by his family’s name.

‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ by Oscar Wilde

‘He threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it.’

The rose in this sad story represents sacrifice. The nightingale has given her life to creating the rose, so the student could be happy by winning the girl he loves. However, when this doesn’t go as planned, the student can’t appreciate the rose and the sacrifice that the nightingale made to create it. It is another example of roses being used to remind us to be grateful for what we have.

‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner

In this classic example of naturalist literature, the only time the rose is mentioned is in the title. However, its presence is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the book opens with Emily’s death, so the rose represents the idea of her funeral. However, the more we learn about Emily’s past, we see that the main themes of her life have been loss, loneliness, and the absence of love. The rose symbolizes the hope she carried – she still believed in love, even though nobody ever bought her roses.

‘The Narrow Way’ by Anne Bronte

‘Earth yields no scents like those;

But he that dares not grasp the thorn

Should never crave the rose.’

it is a popular rose metaphor in literature – the idea of the thorns being an integral part of the rose. In this poem, Anne Bronte reminds us that everything has a negative and a positive side. If we pursue something because of its positive qualities, we must accept its negative parts.

‘A Red, Red Rose’ by Robert Burns

‘Oh my love is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June.’

In his most famous poem, Robert Burns uses the red rose as the ultimate symbol of love. Through the rose metaphor, we learn that his love is just as beautiful and fresh as a new bloom rose. It is the most romantic use of rose symbolism in literature.

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