In "A Rose for Emily," what is the main idea?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"A Rose for Emily" is certainly one of those stories that is hard to forget. The shocking conclusion, when the decaying body of Homer is found, is horrible indeed, making the story an American gothic tale. In this respect, the main idea of the story would be that Emily Grierson was quite mad.

In Faulkner's hands, however, the story becomes much more complex. It becomes an examination of Emily's Southern culture, as well as her sad life. Through the voice of the narrator, "the town" itself becomes a character in the story. The people of Jefferson, acting collectively, are "the town." As the narrator relates how "the town" thinks and what "the town" does, the reader comes to understand the terrible weight of social convention and Southern tradition that has directed and controlled Emily's entire life. The idea that comes from Faulkner's portrait of life in Jefferson is that Southerners are held prisoners of the past, particularly those like Emily Grierson who bear the name of old, genteel families.

Considered in its entirety, Faulkner's story develops the idea that individuals live complex, hidden interior lives, with the truth masked by appearances.


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