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There are three themes for William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"; each of these themes are supported with the elements of character, point of view, and setting.
"The Decline of the Old South"
Contributing to this theme is narration and character. The narrators state that Emily Grierson has become "a fallen monument" and "a hereditary obligation upon the town," a lady of the South who lived in the time of Colonel Sartoris. Her house, in its "coquettish decay" is all that is left behind of the legacy of Colonel Sartoris, the mayor of the town, and her father, whose portrait looms over Emily, even after his death. After her decadent life of dwelling in the past, Emily's death is accompanied by the attendance of old men wearing their Confederate uniforms, speaking of how they once danced with Miss Emily.
Death looms over Emily's life. First of all, Emily lives under the shadow of the dead Colonel Sartoris and her dead father, whose crayon portrait rests behind her on the fireplace mantel when the aldermen come to her door. She stands with her father's watch ticking inside her black dress, lloking bloated, "like a body long submerged in motionless water," denying that her father is dead.
Death is also mentioned by the narrators who refer to Emily's great-aunt who reportedly was insane. This allusion and Emily's strange behavior of not allowing her father's body to be removed for three days foreshadows the grisly conclusion. Clearly, character and narration also support this theme.
"Community vs. Isolation"
Throughout her life, Emily is prevented from going out with gentlemen callers who are not suitable for her; in short, Emily's life is "thrawted." Ironically, Emily lives apart from the community, but the community continues to be interested in her doings. When, for instance, Emily teaches china painting and the town watches as she rides around town with the Northerner, Homer Barron. Viewing her less as a woman, but more as "idol in a niche..." the narrators mention that Emily passes "from generation to generation."
This is a very interesting question to think about because it points towards one of the most fascinating aspects of this story, which is the narration and the narrative stance taken by the author. The narrator is actually the townspeople and the story consists of the fragments of their interactions with Miss Emily and what they know. What is so intriguing about this story therefore is that there is so much that they, and we as readers, do not know, and we are left, just like the townspeople, to piece together what is left over from the tantalising facts and fragments that we do have about her life. Consider the following quote and how it indicates the limits of the narrator's knowledge:
Daily, monthly, yearly, we watched the negro grow more greyer and stooped, going in and out with his market basket. Each December we sent her a tax notice, which would be returned by the post office a week later, unclaimed. Now and then we would see her in one of the downstairs windows--she had evidently shut up the top floor of the house--like a carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us, we could never tell which.
The narrative thus draws our attention to all that is not known and leaves it up to our mind and our fantasies how Miss Emily spent such gaps away from the public gaze. The story is only told therefore through concrete episodes that were witnessed by the townspeople, leaving us and them to fill the gaps with our own surmises.
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