"A Rose for Emily" Theme

Marissa L.
4
min read
Jul 29, 2021

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner is a fascinating short story about the Antebellum South after the Civil War. The story follows the life of Emily Grierson, a woman from high society who refuses and is unable to change her ways. The changing south, isolation, death, progress, and gossip are some of the main A Rose for Emily themes. 

Isolation

Isolation is a major A Rose for Emily theme. The main character Emily suffers through forced isolation when she is young because of the overprotectiveness of her father, who holds on to the old traditional beliefs of the South. As a member of the upper crust of society, he does not let Emily mingle with the common folk and rejects any suitors for Emily because none of them are good enough according to him, keeping Emily isolated from a young age.


After his death, Emily does not have the tools to interact with society at large. She is pitied and misunderstood by the townspeople further leading to her isolation. Homer Barron, as an outsider, is someone she can get along with, but she grows overly dependent on him as a result of her childhood isolation. This is why when he tries to leave her, she resorts to the drastic measure of killing him. After this incident, she isolates herself almost completely, and it is only at the end of the book that we find out that she kept his body in bed next to her for decades.  

The South

The story takes place very soon after the Civil War, during a time when many things that were taken for granted are changing. Emily along with a few people from the upper social class represent the old traditions, which is why many of the townspeople still give them respect and status. During this time of change, holding on to some of the old traditions is comforting.


At the beginning of the story, Colonel Sartoris, the mayor, gives Emily special consideration because she belongs to the former aristocracy. As the story progresses, Emily and the old generation hold on to the traditions of the past even when the town and the people around them change. 


Emily's father refused any suitors because of his family's status but after his death, Emily dates a northern day laborer. The new generation doesn’t see a problem in it but the older people see it as scandalous. An 80-year-old judge says it's rude to accuse a woman of smelling bad when people complain about strange smells coming from the house. The entire story can be seen as an allegory for how the old traditions of the South are dying, making the changing south one of the themes of A Rose for Emily.

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Progress

The Civil War is still recent at the beginning of the story and people in the south are still holding on to the old ways and traditions. The strict social structure is something that both the aristocrats as well as the common people believe. As the mayor, Colonel Sartorius waives Emily's taxes because he believes that a woman of her status should not need to worry about things as trivial as money.


Emily herself is a relic of the past and finds it difficult to accept change. Over the decades she refuses to adapt to the world around her. She doesn't let the townsfolk add a mailbox to her property, even after the Colonel's death she refuses to pay taxes, and she holds herself separate from the townspeople. At the end of the story, we find out that she has been clinging to the rotting corpse of her former lover that she herself poisoned, a representation of how the old traditions are one of the themes for A Rose for Emily. 

Death

Death is one of the central themes in A Rose for Emily. The first time we encounter death is when Emily's father dies. As he was the dominating male figure in her life, Emily finds it incredibly difficult. She is unable to comprehend death and life without her father. In a piece of clever foreshadowing, we are told that she waits a few days before she allows people to remove her father's corpse.  


When Emily meets Homer Baron she finds a new object for her attention and affection. But she is ill-prepared to build connections with people because of her restricted childhood. When Homer tries to leave her she chooses to kill him and be with his corpse rather than lose him.  For decades she prefers to live in the delusion that he is not dead and sleeps next to the corpse on the same bed. Death is the ultimate acceptance of change, and Emily as a member of the old aristocracy is unable to let go of the old ways, just as she is unable to accept the death of her loved ones. 


The last death is Emily’s. The townspeople finally get a chance to solve some of the mysteries surrounding her. They discover that the source of the strange smell emanating from the house for decades was the rotting corpse of her former lover. Though this sparks much gossip, her funeral is still well-attended because she has been an object of interest in the community for such a long time and her death represents the end of the old traditions.

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Gossip

Gossip is A Rose for Emily theme that bands the townspeople together. As part of the former aristocracy, Emily holds a high position in society which makes her an object of interest and gossip. After her father's death, being a single rich woman and her isolationist behavior made her mysterious and a constant topic of discussion within society.


When people found out that Emily had been left with almost nothing they were glad because they could now feel pity for somebody who used to be of a higher social class. They could consider themselves at least her equal if not her superior. Schadenfreude or the pleasure in the misfortune of others was a strange consequence of the fall of the aristocracy.


Emily's affair with Homer was initially a scandalous bit of gossip that thrilled the locals but even though they were pleased with Emily's fall they still held on to conceptions of social class. Eventually, the townspeople felt the need to intervene and split the couple. After Homer apparently leaves Emily she is still a point of conversation. Over the decades, the gossip about her former aristocratic position, her eccentric behavior, and the strange smell emanating from her house serve as a way of keeping the townspeople united.


What is the theme of A Rose for Emily? In a story with many themes, a major A Rose for Emily theme could be considered the changing of traditions and the consequences of progress. If you need any help with an essay about A Rose for Emily themes or help with any kind of academic issue, the experts at Studyfy are always around to make your life easier.

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