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Themes

The following ideas were suggested by readers from 1998 to 2004 as thematically important.

Michael Harutunian (1998) saw the story as an allegory, seeing Rose as an emblem for the South: "How about looking at 'A Rose for Emily' as an allegory for the South? Emily is a static character, unable to adapt to a changing world because she will risk having her perverse secret exposed. The cost, though, is disastrously high as she shares Homer's fate. Looking at the South through the same perspective, the similarities become obvious. The South, unwilling to face its own perverse secret, slavery, which Faulkner so ably discusses in his other works, stagnates and is consumed by its own deep denial. The insanity of Emily becomes the insanity of the South."

Shari (2002) sees the names as symbolic: "Emily is symbolically not a woman but the emotion of the Confederate States (spirit and industry). The north had inexpensive immigrant labor to flourish with, but southern states had its workforce depleted by emancipation of slaves. 

"Wealthy northern businessmen were called Robber Barons, as they were called in those days (Getty, Vanderbelt, etc.).  That is where Homer Baron got his name. 

"Tobe is also not spelled Tobie or Tobey, as it should be; by the end of the story, he is aging or dying. Look into that. The whole story is symbolism representing the neurosis that the South experienced trying to pull itself together after the Civil War."

Whitney (2003) sees commentary about society in the townspeople's treatment of Emily: "In this story, society isn't represented in a positive way. They are nosy and don't really care about anyone but themselves. All day long they sit there and gossip about Emily's life and her problems, but they never step up and ask her what's wrong or if there is anything that they can do. Once she dies, they go to her funeral just so they can see her house. What does that say about society?"

Nicole (2000) asked and answered her thematic question: "What was Faulkner, a lifelong resident of the South, trying to prove by symbolizing the North in Homer Barron as low-class and the South in the town of Jefferson as traditional, but destructive? I believe he was showing that neither side was totally correct. Maybe that the 'human condition,' as he called it, is universal, and common to ALL regions of the world, not separated by artificial boundaries."

Jean (1999; J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College) sees the story symbolically as not about Emily at all but about the South after the Civil War:

"A Rose For Emily" tells of a young woman and the oppression imbued by her father and the local townspeople. The symbology the story of the life of Emily imparts has to do with the transition of the Old South (after the civil war.) By using this parable of a girl who is victim of decaying traditions, a valuable message is sent. Her marriage to a dead man was tantamount to the south's marriage to old traditions that included slavery, and class consciousness that allowed favoritism (for the august names) to prevail. The real message is not of the injustices that drove Emily to such a bizarre and horrendous deed. It is about how the old traditions that were established during a period of closed mindedness and haughtiness that drove the South to do some very horrendous things to their fellowman--which were only implied by the treatment of Negroes, women and northerners in the story. It tells of how misplaced values can affect and infect anyone that comes into such a circle of influence.

The house that belonged to the Grierson's is symbolic of an age gone by. It is described throughout the story in various states of neglect and decay. Emily herself is symbolic of the shifting ideals of the old versus the new southerners in the town. In the end she represents the the unhealthy traditions that the old diehards of the south cling to. The conflict that Emily represents, in refusing to adhere to the new laws with reference to taxes etc, is symbolic of the conflict of acceptance versus unacceptance that ran through the South (as depicted in the symbolic town of Jefferson). The man's toilet set in silver -- found tarnished in the attic bedroom, was symbolic of the tarnished reputation of Emily because of her association with Homer.

Ruben (1998) made the following observations about the story and its implications for current society: "'A Rose for Emily' is a somewhat sad, yet disturbing story. Emily kept herself in her house for years, and no one cared enough to see how she was doing at any time. The people came when they advised her that her taxes were due. They didn't have the decency to try and shower her with friendship or love or anything for that matter. Homer Barron disappeared, without a trace. They didn't bother to look for him either. 

"Emily apparently felt that the rest of her life should be spent alone, because after the kids that she taught [how to paint china] didn't send their kids to be taught by her or they just left, she figured that that is what she meant to them and placed herself in seclusion. Everyone wondered why Emily behaved that way, but none of them bothered to go find out. 

"They should have been pointing at themselves when they wanted answers to their questions about her. What is really disturbing about this is, that we, as a people, do that too, when we do not visit our elderly family or put them homes and forget about them. I wonder how many 'Emilys' are out in this world."

Geetha from Malaysia (1998) reads the story as a feminist story, seeing Emily as a woman who refused to be dominated by the men of the town.

Vincent (1998; JSRCC) sees the story as a consideration of what happens to people who lead a sheltered life: "It's amazing what living a sheltered life can cause you to do -- almost like she didn't even see what she was doing as 'wrong'. She did something that is inconceivable to most citizens, but due to her warped upbringing, she sees it as alright for her to make sure she isn't 'abandoned' again, even through murder."

Last changed: March 22, 2004