If one had to explain the central purpose of the story "A Rose for Emily", what would it be?I am trying to help my daughter write a paper. She has been asked to explain how fully the...

If one had to explain the central purpose of the story "A Rose for Emily", what would it be?

I am trying to help my daughter write a paper. She has been asked to explain how fully the story achieves its purpose and how significant the purpose is? I'm not sure exactly what the purpose is since the story is so multi-dimensional.

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily's father felt that no one was good enough for her, and he drove away all her suitors during his lifetime. By the time he died, her beauty and allure had already begun to fade. She holds on to his dead body for several days after his decease, and she seems to be in denial that he is really gone. It appears that Emily greatly fears being alone, and, with her father's death and no suitors clamoring for her hand anymore, that is exactly how she finds herself.

Later, she seems to try to spite her father's memory by starting a relationship with a Yankee construction worker, Homer Barron—someone her father would have deemed wholly unacceptable. When, perhaps, it seems as though he is going to leave her as well (as her more distant relations have made it clear that they oppose the match), Emily buys rat poison, evidently, with the purpose of murdering Homer. In this way, she is able to keep him from leaving her, and she shares her bed with his rotting corpse until her own death.

We see, then, that the most terrible fate some people can imagine for themselves is being alone. Finding someone to love and care for, and who loves and cares for us (and not even necessarily in a romantic way), is more important than status or tradition or money. In fact, the appearance of importance of all of these latter considerations vanishes when one is faced with the possibility of being alone forever.

This purpose seems to me to be quite significant, and in many ways universal—applicable across time and space and culture. Further, it is achieved quite compellingly as readers are so taken aback by the revelation of Emily's willingness to murder in order to avoid solitude. We have to ask ourselves why and how she could murder and then retain the decomposing body, as such a series of actions is so foreign to us. She was desperate, to put it simply, and desperate people will do desperate things.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You could look at it as if the main purpose is Faulkner's warning that not everything can last forever.  Emily attempted to hang on to the past and not evolve and change as the times changed around her.  She clung to what she has always known resulting in isolation, rejection, and judgement from the town and all who knew her, and eventually death.  Perhaps Faulkner, like Shirley Jackson in "The Lottery", is telling us that tradition for tradition's sake is deadly.  That we must adapt and evolve in order to survive.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If an abstract explanation is allowed, try this: the purpose is to show the dangerous interplay of identity, desire, and context. Or, to put that more simply, everything that happens in the story happens because Emily is who she is, because she's in that specific context, and because she wants certain things and the context (town, father, etc.) wants others. They clash, and the result is isolation and death.

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A Rose for Emily

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