A Rose For Emily Theme

What is the theme of “A Rose for Emily” and how is that theme communicated?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the predominant themes Faulkner explores throughout his classic short story "A Rose for Emily" concerns tradition versus progress. Faulkner examines the theme by illustrating the various ways people treat and view Miss Emily as time passes. Miss Emily Grierson and her outdated home represent the traditional Antebellum South. Her character is even referred to as a "tradition, a duty, and a care"; she is compared to a "fallen monument," and she is respected by older members of Jefferson's community. Individuals of Colonel Sartoris 's generation honored Miss Emily by remitting her taxes...

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cmoskow1 | Student

In “A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, several themes exist, including death, and a conflict between the past and the present. The theme of death reoccurs throughout the story, beginning with the death of Miss Emily’s father. Not only is his loss of life a literal symbol of death, but his departure also means the death of tax allowances made by Colonel Satoris.

This also lends to the theme of the conflict between the past and the present because while the tax evasion was allowed for Emily’s father, it now becomes her responsibility to pay the taxes on her home. However, despite dogged attempts by the city officials, the tax bill is never paid.


The next instance where the theme of death appears is when Emily purchases arsenic and the townsfolk believe she intends to commit suicide. However, Emily intends to use the poison on her would-be beau, Homer Barron. It is not until the end of the story that his body is discovered, yet his disappearance symbolizes the death of Emily’s innocence. The town believes Emily and Homer to be married after Emily’s cousins arrive. The true death of her innocence is that she poisoned Homer and kept his body in her house for many years.


Another example of the conflict between the past and the present is exhibited when Emily holds china painting classes in her home, but the lessons come to an end when the next generation fails to show up for lessons, Emily closes her door to the town until her death. Since the new generation does not follow the previous one, Emily closes her doors on the new generation. In addition, the town adds free postal service, and Miss Emily refuses to put the metal numbers and mailbox on her home. She is stuck in the past of life before postal service and refuses to enter the present where free postal service has come into town.

tmac123 | Student

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.

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