A Rose for Emily: The Theme of Tradition

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Many people at some stage of their lives and almost all nations at certain points in history encounter the dilemma related to their cultural traditions. On the one hand, it is widely agreed that the new challenges necessitate new solutions that should eventually substitute the older ‘ways’. On the other hand, it is also crucial to preserve one’s customs and established practices. In this regard, the short story “A Rose for Emily,” written by William Faulkner (1930) in one way seeks to describe how old and respected traditions struggle to disappear under the changed social reality. Although his work was particularly dedicated to his contemporaries in the South who still shared a similar mentality as before the Civil War, its message can be generalized to fit any socio-historical context.

Emily’s character combines both literal and allegorical tragedies, where the latter symbolizes the gradual death of antebellum culture in Jefferson. Its citizens view Emily as “tradition, a duty, and a care” and through the lenses “of respectful affection” (Faulkner, 1930). However, at the same time, they consider her crazy and often pity her, which reveals that although the traditions are still dear to the people of Jefferson, they are already alien to the community. Still, the community somehow cannot fully get rid of their past habits. Faulkner again describes such a phenomenon through Emily’s desire to freeze time by refusing to separate from their dead father and husband. In other words, Faulkner wants to say that his contemporaries live with the ‘dead body’ they refuse to ‘bury’.

In this context, ‘dead body,’ as was mentioned above, refers to old Southern views, and the character of Tobe is the clue to this interpretation. Indeed, throughout the story, Jefferson’s citizens refer to Tobe as ‘Negro’, which clearly reveals their sentiments towards black people. Therefore, it is fair to say that Faulkner wants to persuade his co-citizens to abandon the tradition of racism and embrace the new reality.

I think that by adding this theme to the narrative, Faulkner made the story seem much deeper and more powerful by extending the personal tragedy with an important social message. Probably, it would be fair to claim that the latter was the central idea, and without it, the story would never appear in the first place. Nevertheless, the existence of multiple layers definitely makes the story more impactful.


Faulkner, W. (1930). A rose for Emily. Cengage: Gale College Collection. Web.