Exploring Themes of Obsession and Isolation in “A Rose for Emily”

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Tradition vs. Progress in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, revolves around the theme of tradition vs. progress. The story of Emily Grierson can be depicted as a gothic story that depicts prejudice and small-town attitudes in the South a century ago. Faulkner utilizes the scene of a funeral to help unveil the grim enigma enclosed in the house of a psychopathic woman. Faulkner focuses on Emily’s childhood, the death of her father, her brief affair with a man named Homer, and Homer’s death to bring to light the overlying theme of time in this short story. In “A Rose for Emily,” Emily Grierson is foreseen as demented with an ongoing need for approval, as well as severe attachment issues, which is a symbol of the rose.

Mr. Grierson’s Influence on Emily’s Life

Many people can conclude that most of Emily Grierson’s issues began in her childhood. Emily’s mother is never mentioned in the story, so her father is the main person to decide her life, which will be an important factor later in her young adult life. Growing up, especially in a town in Mississippi in the early 1900s, Mr. Grierson always made sure that Emily was following the social values and Southern traditions set before her. He is a very dictatorial, strict presence who stifles Emily’s growth as a strong female.

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When it came time for her to be courted by young men, Mr. Grierson wanted Emily to be with a man who could take care of her the way he did since she was such a daddy’s girl. He wanted a man who would give her love and attention after he was to pass away. No man was ever good enough in Mr. Grierson’s eyes, so in turn, Emily was never courted. Mr. Grierson believed she would never get courted after his death because her looks would be diminished. He ended up passing away when Emily was twenty-seven years old. Mr. Grierson had a lasting impression on her life.

Emily’s Pursuit of Connection and Controversy

Within the days following his death, Emily held onto her father’s body rather than sending it to be buried. She did not want to accept the fact that she lost her father, who was her everything. This is evident within the house, as a portrait of him was hung above the mantel. Whenever the ladies of the town went to bring their condolences to Emily, she had no trace of anguish in her facial expression. It took the authorities about to knock on her door before she finally had a breakdown and agreed to let go of her father.

The town realized how much Emily, who had no social skills, depended on her father after that moment. She depended on her him emotionally, socially, and financially. Emily inherited the house, the money, and the servant who had been in the house before his death. Within a few years of inheriting the assets, Emily ran short of money and could no longer afford to pay the monthly bills for the house. She was given a pass on paying by the Sheriff because he felt bad that she had no job, social skills, or money left.

After years of being with a male companion, except for her male servant, Emily met Homer. Homer Barron was a Yankee and a lower to middle-class construction worker who was commissioned to be building a new sidewalk in front of the Grierson home that would be part of the remodeling of the town. Through the construction, Emily spotted Homer and found an interest in him. Emily had a previous unknown boyfriend and was hoping to get Homer to possibly court her. Homer was believed to have been a player who was against getting married. He was often spotted at clubs with his guy friends, this is what lead to rumors of his homosexuality.

Tragic Secrets and Obsession in Death

Emily and Homer had a hidden fling following their uncanny meeting. Following a night with Emily, Homer was never seen again. In the beginning, much of the town believed that he had skipped town. A few months after his disappearance, a strong smell permeated the house, which could be smelt from the street. So one night, the men of the town went to the house and sprayed lime juice around the foundation of the house to try to eliminate the pungent odor.

Over time, the town got used to the smell. Emily ended up passing away at the age of seventy-four. When it came time for her funeral, the men and women of the town each had a reason for attending the funeral. The men went out of genuine sorrow over the passing of Emily Grierson. The women attended in hopes of discovering the dirty, hidden secrets being held within the Grierson residence. At that time, people were finally able to enter the house, where they found Homer’s decomposed corpse.

Upon finding his body, the town finally started to connect the dots of how he died. Emily had bought rat poisoning a few days before the disappearance, but everyone thought it was because the house was old and possibly infested with rats. Emily found out that he had been informing the town that he was sleeping with her, which would have ruined her reputation of being a Southern lady.

She decided to use rat poisoning because she considered him a rat, and the only way you can kill a rat is with poison. After killing him, she realized that he was the only guy willing to give her the love and attention she longed for, so Emily kept him in her bed, still underneath the seat, in the same position he died in. There was an indentation in the space next to Homer’s body, which the women of the town believed was because Emily was still sleeping in the bed with the corpse for many years.

Love, Obsession, and the Haunting Legacy of Traditions

The actions taken by Emily portray a woman with severe attachment issues with slight psychopathic tendencies, which can be seen in her father’s death rolling over into Homer’s death. Emily had a need for love and attention, which began at a young age. Following her father’s passing, “…she went out very little;…” (Faulkner Act II. line 18), and she would cling to whoever was willing to fulfill her want and desire. Homer was the person she believed could do that for her.

Unfortunately for Homer, Emily’s wanting to keep the traditions her dad taught her during her childhood would lead to his death. She wanted to have a perfect and pristine image within the town, and the gossip about her sleeping around would have been detrimental to that want. The psychopathic tendencies were present following her father’s death, in that she didn’t want to release his body to authorities because she believed he was still alive, but this became more evident after Homer’s death. She kept Homer’s body in the bed she slept in, which shows she was still attached to him.

A rose can be given to someone as a symbol of love, empathy, and much more. The story, it could have a wide range of possible meanings. Each character embodies an aspect of one of the rose’s meanings. Emily’s would-be love is due to her consistent want for love and someone to court her in her older age.


  1. Faulkner, W. (1930). A Rose for Emily. In Collected Stories of William Faulkner (pp. 120-135). Random House.
  2. Hines, T. S. (2002). Southern Gothic Literature. University Press of Mississippi.
  3. O’Connor, F. (1955). A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  4. Johnson, T. (2010). Tradition vs. Progress: An Analysis of Themes in Faulkner’s Works. Journal of Southern Literature, 35(2), 45-58.
  5. Smith, E. P. (1998). Small-Town Attitudes in American Literature: An Exploration of Prejudice and Isolation. American Studies Journal, 42(3), 112-129.
  6. Thompson, L. M. (2005). The Symbolic Use of Roses in Literature: Love, Loss, and Longing. Symbolism Studies, 20(1), 27-42.
  7. Jackson, M. R. (2012). The Psychological Portrait of Emily Grierson: Attachment Issues and Psychopathy in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” Southern Psychologist, 67(3), 189-204.
  8. Abrams, M. H., & Harpham, G. G. (2014). A Glossary of Literary Terms (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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Exploring Themes of Obsession and Isolation in "A Rose for Emily". (2023, Aug 10). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/exploring-themes-of-obsession-and-isolation-in-a-rose-for-emily

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