A Rose for Emily

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Themes and Colors
The Post Civil-War South Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Patriarchal Authority and Control Theme Icon
Time and Narrative  Theme Icon
Gossip, Social Conventions, and Judgment Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Rose for Emily, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Before the American Civil War (known as the “antebellum South”), the South’s economy relied on the agricultural output of plantations, large farms owned by wealthy Southern whites who exploited black slave labor to keep operating costs as low as possible. By its very nature, plantation life gave rise to a rigid social hierarchy—one in which wealthy white farmers were treated like aristocrats, middle-class and poor whites like commoners, and blacks like property. Along with this…

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Even as white Southerners in the short story cling to their pre-Civil War traditions, ideals, and institutions, the world around them is quickly changing. Agriculture is being supplanted by industry, and aristocratic neighborhoods with their proud plantation-style houses like the Grierson’s are being encroached upon by less grandiose but more economically practical garages and cotton gins. Likewise, the post-Sartoris generation of authorities in Jefferson—those men who belong to the Board of Aldermen that governs…

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Members of Jefferson’s Board of Alderman, whether old and gallant and nostalgic for the Old South like Sartoris or young and business-like such as the newer generation of authorities, all have something in common: they are all male and govern over—and to the exclusion of—women. Faulkner foregrounds this dynamic when he has his narrator recall Sartoris’s law requiring all black women to wear their aprons in public, and dramatizes it in Miss Emily’s relationships with…

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“A Rose for Emily” is not a linear story, where the first event treated brings about the next, and so on—rather, it is nonlinear, jumping back and forth in time. However, there is a method to this temporal madness: the story opens with Miss Emily’s funeral, then goes back in time, slowly revealing the central events of Miss Emily’s life, before going back forward in time to the funeral. There, in the story’s final scene…

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“A Rose for Emily” is narrated by a plural “we” voice, which stands in for the memory of the collective town. In this way, the story can be read as the town’s collective, nostalgically tinged, darkly disturbed memory. And yet that collective voice has a darker edge than a simple collective memory. Because of that collective narrator, “A Rose for Emily” is also a collection of town gossip centering on Miss Emily, generated by…

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