What are the themes that Faulkner employs in his story, "A Rose for Emily"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "A Rose For Emily" by William Faulkner, time is an important part of the story.  The story does not follow the usual sequential order of stories. The author was interested in keeping the reader a little off balance, just as is the main character, Emily Grierson.

The setting of the story is the south, Mississippi, before, during , and after the American Civil War.  The story spans the life of Emily which is 74 years.  The south was in upheaval when the southern way of life was being challenged.  During the Civil War, the south was struggling in every possible--life, death, the way of life, food, slaves, no slaves.  After the Civil War,  the southern people did not necessarily actually accept the war's end in theory.  Their way of life had been comprised, and no one took it lightly. 

Faulkner examines the theme of time and its effects on one southern lady, Emily, who in many respects represented a good many ladies of her time.  If a lady were not married by her mid-twenties, she was considered a spinster or even an old maid.  This meant for some reason she was not marriage material.  Such was the case for Emily.  Her father did not allow her to be married during his lifetime. When the father died, although she was still a young woman, he left her penniless.  During this time, the woman usually brought a dowry (a sum of money, land, or valuables) to the marriage); but Emily did not have one because her father had not prepared for his death. 

Death is one of the themes of the story.  At least five deaths occur during the story.  Each one has some effect on Emily's life.  One thing everyone knows for sure is that death is inevitable.  It seemed as though everyone was waiting on Emily to pass away, so they could get inside the house to find out what had been going on all these years. 

Emily tried to overcome death when her father died.  For three days, she refused to admit that he was dead.

Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead.

When Homer dies, Emily again continues to disrespect death by pretending that Homer was still alive lying bed waiting for her.

Colonel Sartoris had always taken care of city affairs and taxes for Emily.  When he died, the new generation of councilmen want Emily to pay her taxes.  Again, she refuses to admit that the Colonel is dead and does not pay her taxes.

'I received a paper, yes,' Miss Emily said. 'I have no taxes in Jefferson.'

'But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see We must go by the--'

'See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson. See Colonel Sartoris.' (Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years.)

Emily and Homer’s macabre marriage demonstrates Emily’s disturbing attempt to intertwine life and death. However, death ultimately triumphs as it always does.


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A Rose for Emily

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