Tradition vs. Modernity in "A Rose for Emily"

Categories: Fiction

William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" depicts the story of an elderly woman struggling to move on from her past, following the death of her controlling father three decades earlier. Her once grand home has deteriorated into a dilapidated house on a formerly prestigious street.
The gossiping townspeople feel sorry for Miss Emily and speculate about her isolated existence, especially when she becomes involved with Homer Barron, a young man working in the area. Suspicion grows as their relationship progresses.
However, things take a grim turn when Miss Emily is seen less frequently with Homer and purchases arsenic from the pharmacy.

Homer disappears, and Miss Emily passes away at the age of seventy-four. Following her demise, it is revealed that Homer's decomposed body, along with another one, was found in her sealed upstairs room after four decades.
"A Rose for Emily" delves into themes of tradition versus modernity and old ways versus new ways through its storyline, characters, and setting.

In the beginning of the story, there is a clear contrast between old and new.

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Miss Emily's once grand house is now described as aged and rundown, standing out among the neighboring houses. The house represents tradition, refusing to adapt to modern changes despite the reconstruction of the South. Coming from a prominent family in town, Miss Emily commands respect wherever she goes. She is depicted as a pitiable elderly woman who has been sheltered by her father. When asked to pay taxes, she rejects in a way that suggests she should not have been asked at all.

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This resistance to change is further emphasized when she buys rat poison without providing an explanation as required by state law. The ultimate act of defiance occurs when Miss Emily murders her lover, illustrating the clash between tradition and progress in the narrative.Miss Emily is determined to uphold her traditional values, leading her to commit murder in order to keep him with her as she was taught.

Miss Emily, raised by a controlling father who kept her isolated, struggles to adapt after his death. Faulkner uses a symbol of her stuck in time, with "time... vanishing into her belt." When she meets Homer Baron, she defies tradition by dating him. However, he eventually distances himself and refuses to marry her. Desperate to keep him, she kills him."And on it lay a long strand of iron-gray hair," she lay next to Homer's dead, decaying body until she could no longer do so. She poisoned him as a way to stop time, allowing her to stay with Homer as long as she desired.

The story's setting reveals a significant period of change in the South, including for Miss Emily and the townspeople. Between the 1860s and 1930s, as slavery ended and the middle class rose, societal attitudes shifted. The wealthy Grierson family, once powerful with many slaves, faced upheaval with Miss Emily's father's death. While the townspeople adapted, Miss Emily struggled without guidance, leading to her unraveling. She was accustomed to following, not leading, as demonstrated in her relationship with her controlling father.When Homer appears, she feels she has found another leader, but when he decides to depart, she feels compelled to take his life. Her action is driven by the need for a male presence in her life, making it the only way she believes she can retain him.

Symbolism in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” suggests that Miss Emily is stuck in a time loop, unable to break free. She poisons Homer Barron, possibly seeking male guidance as her life unravels. Despite criticism and her own mental struggles, she keeps him as her 'rose' forever, motivated by love, selfishness, or a need for attention.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Tradition vs. Modernity in "A Rose for Emily". (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

Tradition vs. Modernity in "A Rose for Emily" essay
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