A Rose For Emily Theme

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hadley818's profile pic

hadley818 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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One of the themes of "A Rose for Emily" is the constant struggle between the past and the present. Emily cannot let go of the past, especially the attitudes and customs of her father's generation. She believes in the importance of heredity and aristocracy and is holding on to the antebellum beliefs of the past. Colonel Sartoris's decree that Emily is exempt from paying taxes in Jefferson give Emily a license to live as if she is above everyone. Sleeping with Homer's dead body symbolizes Emily's inability to let go of the past and embrace the new ideas of the next generation.

Faulkner gradually reveals this theme through the attitudes of the characters. Emily treats her servant Tobe almost as if he is a slave. The townspeople are just as bad as Emily because they allow her to behave the way she does. When Emily asks for rat poison the clerk allows her to buy it even though she never states its purpose when she is asked.  Although the town officials ask Emily to pay taxes, they never try hard enough to succeed. The subtle passivity and backwardness of the town allow Emily to grow stranger as the story progresses, building to the shocking climax of discovering that Emily had been sleeping next to Homer's dead body for years.

sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The previous posts do a nice job of discussing some of the themes present in "A Rose for Emily."  One theme that hasn't been discussed is the theme of isolation.  

Miss Emily is a lonely and isolated character.  The opening sentence of the story directly tells readers that bit of information.  

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant -- a combined gardener and cook -- had seen in at least ten years.

Emily isolated herself from the town.  Sometimes it's the town and the people of the town that cause a particular person to become isolated; however, Faulkner drops a lot of evidence that suggests that Miss Emily is the main person in control of her isolation.  

After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all.

The above quote shows that Emily didn't make efforts to leave her house.  She chose to isolate herself from the community.  To the credit of the community, the people made efforts to engage with Emily.  Emily simply didn't reciprocate.  

So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.... A few of the ladies had the temerity to call, but were not received, and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man -- a young man then -- going in and out with a market basket.

I can understand Emily wanting to isolate herself while mourning for her father, but her isolation continues for years.  Her isolation breaks for a bit, and it's important enough for the narrator to make note of it.  

From that time on her front door remained closed, save for a period of six or seven years, when she was about forty, during which she gave lessons in china-painting.

Other than that, Emily's isolation from the town is complete.

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janeyb's profile pic

janeyb | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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There are many themes within "A Rose for Emily," most of them are pretty common Faulkner themes; the decline of the old south, death, and isolation, among others. The themes are communicated through the plot of the story. Death, for example, occurs five times in "A rose for Emily." Section one even begins with a description of Emily's funeral.

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tmac123's profile pic

tmac123 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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There are actually many themes represented in this story. A dominate theme has been expressed in some of the other answers and it revolves around the changing of dominance from the older generation that supported a genteel lifestyle and the younger generation that adheres to rules and regulations for order. A power struggle is shown between these two generations with Emily\'s refusal to pay taxes because Colonel Sartoris granted her an exemption because of her family roots. The standoff between these two factions shows deference to the power and respectability of the old ways but an adherence to the new.