In "A Rose for Emily", how do the images of decay tie into or help develop the author's theme?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great question.  If you discuss the "Emily's" theme of the decay of tradition, the following examples work well to exemplify that theme.

1. In Part 1 of the story, when the town's delegation visits Miss Emily regarding her taxes, Faulkner's description of the Grierson house is filled with decay-related words/phrases.  For example, the men are admitted to a "dim hall" and see a stairway that smells of "dust and disuse." As they enter the sitting room, they see cracked leather furniture.  Even Faulkner's description of Miss Emily evokes a corpselike figure.  She looks "bloated," possesses eyes of a "pallid hue," and speaks with a "dry and cold" voice.  To the townspeople and to the reader, Miss Emily represents the Old South and all its tradition.  Faulkner's portrayal of Miss Emily and her house in a state of decay represents the state of Southern traditions during this "Modern" period.

2. In Part 2, the smell of decay eminating from Miss Emily's house is so strong that the town leaders are forced to do something about it.  Of course, at the end of the story, the reader knows what that smell is, but when he first encounters it in Part 2, he can infer that the death of tradition is beginning to spread outside the walls of the Grierson home and affect the town itself.

3.  Finally, in Part 4, the horrific discovery of Homer Barron's corpse in a room filled with "invisible dry dust" and "tarnished" silver pieces comes only after the "violence of breaking down the door" to Miss Emily's room (after her death).  The new has invaded the old, and the now dead tradition appears macabre and distasteful to the representatives of modern society who gaze upon it.

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A Rose for Emily

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