In structuring the story as he did, Faulkner succeeded in making the town itself a character in the story. How the town relates to Emily Grierson--and deals with her--and how Emily's life is affected develop the central theme. The main idea of the story is that the social forces of tradition and culture can destroy the freedom of individuality, taking a terrible human toll in the process.
Emily is a Grierson, the prisoner of her family name in a town and during a time when she was given no choices as to her own life. As the daughter of an overbearing father, Emily consents to his control, never realizing she had any other option. While Emily is young, he drives away all of her suitors, guaranteeing that she will remain at home. Emily becomes a spinster, and as she ages, the town assumes responsibility for her.
Even after her father's death, he remains a force in Emily's life. She won't part with his body for burial, until the town steps in. She remains in the family home and engages only in limited activities that are socially acceptable, such as china painting. Emily is consigned to a life of loneliness and isolation because of who she is and where she lives.
Emily's relationship with Homer Barron shows most dramatically how her individuality and freedom are destroyed by the society in which she lives. When Emily first begins her relationship with Barron, she sees him openly in public, riding with him through the town in a carriage. Her rebellion is short-lived, however. The town deems the relationship and her behavior as being more than unsatisfactory. Her relatives are contacted, they come to town, and Homer goes away. Social convention has been observed. It is only at the conclusion of the story that we see the horrendous results of the town's interference. Emily had gone completely mad, Barron had been poisoned, and Emily had kept his corpse in an upstairs bedroom where she had slept beside his remains for the rest of her life.