What is the message of "A Rose for Emily"?

If there's one overriding message in "A Rose for Emily," it's that one shouldn't remain stuck in the past. Yet this message is entirely lost on the elder folk of Jefferson. They venerate the past as what they see as a much happier, more graceful time. And as Miss Emily represents this past, they put her on a pedestal, conveniently overlooking her various eccentricities.

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To put it simply, the people of the small Southern town of Jefferson are stuck in the past. Life in the present is not much to write home about, and the future doesn't look like it's going to be much better, either. Everything in this sleepy Mississippi town speaks of...

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To put it simply, the people of the small Southern town of Jefferson are stuck in the past. Life in the present is not much to write home about, and the future doesn't look like it's going to be much better, either. Everything in this sleepy Mississippi town speaks of decay and decline. Under the circumstances, its inhabitants can be forgiven for retreating into an idealized past that they regard as having been more graceful, dignified, and glorious.

Ordinarily, this might be a fairly harmless attitude to adopt. But not in this case. The older townsfolk have identified Miss Emily as the last surviving link to the past, and so they venerate her, despite her odd behavior and standoffish demeanor. Among other things, this means she gets off without paying local property taxes on her large, if decaying, property. It also means that people largely ignore the evidence of a terrible smell when walking in the vicinity of her house, where, unbeknownst to them, there is a rotting corpse inside.

Miss Emily has effectively been allowed to get away with Homer Barron's murder because the people of Jefferson choose to remain stuck in the past. Unable to deal with the present and unwilling to face the future, their moral values have become corrupted by their silent complicity in the heinous crime committed by Emily Grierson. The message of "A Rose for Emily" is thus a denouncement of this attitude.

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