The main themes of the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner are isolation, privacy and the conflict between past and change. These themes are enhanced through motifs like death and taxes or compassion.
The theme of isolation pervades the whole narrative as the story follows a character who is initially isolated from suitors by her father and from most of the society by her higher status, and, subsequently, resorts to self-imposed isolation.
As a young woman, Emily only lived with her father and never seemed to engage in relationships with the community because “the Griersons held themselves a little too high” (p. 4, ll. 13-14). However, upon the death of her father, Emily begins to willingly isolate herself from society as she begins to go in public rarer and rarer. Her isolation is disrupted occasionally;
The theme of privacy is explored in the short story through the relationship between Emily and the townspeople. Although Emily wants to isolate herself from the local society by refusing to exit her house, the townspeople never really let her do that.
Conflict between past and change
The conflict between past and change or present is dealt with in the story in a very comprehensive way. Firstly, the author illustrates this theme through the depictions of both social and physical setting. Emily’s Old South house has become one of the last standing among “garages and cotton gins” (p. 1, l. 9) which are symbols of modernity and change. Consequently, this conflict is even visible visually.
Then, the extensive descriptions of the social setting and social attitudes also capture the same conflict.