A Rose for Emily: Themes

Miss Emily Grierson is a character that stands out in the minds of most Americans.  Almost all American Literature teachers and professors have assigned A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner to students for generations. The story of Miss Emily has enthralled readers to the point that most will never forget her or her story.

They feel sorry for her because they see a woman so greatly by her society that she is driven to do appalling acts.  Faulkner captures his readers with three major themes of obsession, changes in the community, and the setting of the time period.

Obsessions can be dangerous and in the story A Rose for Emily obsessions lead to death and destruction.  Her father and society have destroyed Miss Emily.  Her father is obsessed with preserving his daughter from the world.

None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau; Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door. (Faulkner)

He was so fixated on keeping her to himself that he ruined the chances of her finding love and marriage, which is what society expected her to do to Society was also obsessed with the idea that all women should marry and become the property of her husband.

So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn’t have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized. (Faulkner)

Miss Emily had lost her chances and was beyond retrieving them by the time that her father died.  She was a woman without a man to take care of her, which was an obsession of society.

The people of the town feel sorry for her because she has not married, yet when she starts to see Homer Baron, the Yankee day laborer who is passing through the town due to a job, they criticize Miss Emily because of the way that she conducts herself.  Because of their view of the obsession, she could do no right.

Times change and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.  However, there are always those who get left behind when times do change.  Miss Emily is a perfect example of a person who is left by time.  She cannot understand that the names that were once so prominent are now just names in the history of the town.  The former mayor who had remitted her taxes because of her family name did not have the same values of the new generation.

When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. (Faulkner)

The new generation wanted to confront her when a rancid smell developed at her home, but the older alderman opposed them, who were still dictated by the august names.  Had the newer generation been allowed to investigate, a murder might have been solved and justice served.

The setting and time period was explored by Faulkner as one who lived in the culture.  The setting is Jefferson Mississippi, which is in the Deep South during the early part of the twentieth century.  The south is known for its chivalrous society.  These ways may seem romantic, but it can also lead to some being held back.

Miss Emily was a perfect example. Her life was dictated to her by this society that was still reeling from the Civil War.  In the early twentieth century south when family names were important, laws were overlooked just because of who a person was.  Miss Emily was not expected to pay taxes, did not have to follow health codes when it came to the smell that developed at her home, and she was sold arsenic without signing for it just because of who she was.

A middle or lower class person would not have gotten away with any of the things that Miss Emily did. Had it been someone rather than Miss Emily, Homer Barron would still be alive and if she had somehow still managed to murder him, she was have been caught and brought to justice.

Miss Emily would not have been so condemned by her society when Homer left her, but since it made her feel that she was less of a person, she felt that she had to make him pay.  Even though southern society is not something that everyone can identify, A Rose for Emily makes the reader evaluate the society in which they live.