A Rose For Emily and Other Short Stories

A Rose For Emily and Other Short Stories Themes

Conflict between conscience and duty to family

In "Barn Burning," Sarty Snopes knows that his father burning of barns is wrong, but feels compelled by loyalty to his family. His father makes sure he understands the ties of blood by beating him, but he enforces it himself by affirming his support for Abner out loud. When Abner tells him to run to the barn to get oil (with which Abner is going to start a fire in Major de Spain's barn), the narrator describes Sarty as being driven by:

... the old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him willy nilly and which had run for so long (and who knew where, battening on what of outrage and savagery and lust) before it came to him.

His thinks, "I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can't." Sarty is unable to understand the depth of this battle within himself, other than to describe it as "being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses."

In "Mountain Victory," Hule is torn between helping Major Saucier Weddel and Jubal escape, or helping his father and Vatch kill them. He feels resentment because Weddel has rejected his sister, but also a connection with the seemingly kindhearted man. He tells his brother and father that Weddel will be riding the Thoroughbred, but then at the last minute jumps on the Thoroughbred himself, meaning to sacrifice himself. However, they shoot Weddel, too. The boy's confused motives and inability to either help Weddel escape or remain loyal to his family lead to his own death.

The young man and war

In "Two Soldiers," the young narrator cannot understand the pull that draws his nineteen-year-old brother, Pete, to war. The night before Pete leaves to go to war, the narrator says he hopes maybe he can catch up with his older brother, if the war runs a few years longer, Pete responds that he hopes not: "Folks don't go to wars for fun. A man don't leave his maw crying just for fun." When the narrator asks, "Then why are you going?" Pete answers vaguely, "I just got to."

In "Turnabout," Hope and Ronnie are young British midshipmen who play games while in battle in order to distract themselves from the horror of it. The juxtaposition of their shouting "beaver!" as they score points with their firing of the torpedo from their boat is chilling not only to Captain Bogard, but to the reader.

In "Honor," Buck Monaghan was a pilot in the war, and now has trouble keeping a job. His life holds little meaning for him, as is clear when he resigns himself to dying while wing-walking. As he slides off the wing of the plane, he remembers an Indian prince who told him "You will not know it, but you are all dead," because they fought in the war.

Vatch, in "Mountain Victory," is suffering mentally, having fought for the North in the Civil War. He hears yelling in his sleep and once tried to choke Hule while he was asleep. Awake, he is extremely prone to violence and is threatening to Major Saucier Weddel.

The gap between generations

In "A Rose for Emily," the gap between the generation of Colonel Sartoris and that which has "more modern ideas" is bridged by Miss Emily's life. She remains in the past, however, a relic of a time forgotten. Her house, too, seems stuck in the past; when the aldermen call upon her to demand her taxes, they wait in the parlor "furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture," where "a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray." This theme is demonstrated in Miss Emily's rare interactions with the outside world, when she gives china-painting lessons to "the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris' contemporaries;" when "the newer generation became the backbone and spirit of the town," the students stop coming. When free postal delivery becomes available to the town, Miss Emily's refusal to let an address be assigned to the Grierson house, or to have a mailbox attached to it, exemplifies her refusal to change with the times. After Miss Emily's death, the "very old men" that talk about her amongst themselves at the funeral represent the old generation of Colonel Sartoris:

...confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminshing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.

The gap between the world of the rich and that of the poor

In "A Rose for Emily," the Grierson family is seen as belonging to another world than that of the rest of the town. When the smell of death lingers around Miss Emily's house shortly after the disappearance of her sweetheart, the narrator (who is the voice of the town) sees it as "another link between the gross, teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons."

This gap is also clear in "That Evening Sun," when the Compsons are removed from the fear that Nancy experiences. She and the other black servants are expected to be at their beck and call to clean and do laundry; they are kept a part of the poor class because of their race.

The old maid

In "A Rose for Emily," the narrator, who is the voice of the town, describes how the town people had resented the Griersons because they "held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such." So when Miss Emily reached thirty and was still unmarried, they felt "not pleased exactly, but vindicated." After Miss Emily's father died and left the house to her, they were glad to pity her because "being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized."

Miss Minnie Cooper in "Dry September" is another example of the old maid; she is characterized by a "bright, haggard look," and insists that the children of the town call her "cousin" instead of "aunty." Like Miss Emily, she enters into an adulterous relationship.

A key to the role of the old maid is that the townspeople must whisper, "Poor so-and-so" about the woman. Pity is essential, for the role to be tragic. In "A Rose for Emily," the narrator reports that "as soon as the old people said 'Poor Emily,' the whispering began... this behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: 'Poor Emily.'" The townspeople in "Dry September" say "Poor Minnie" after they decide she must be having an adulterous relationship with the cashier at the bank. Her female friends also say it as they put her to bed after she breaks down laughing in the movie theater.

Hatred between white and black people

"Dry September" tells the story of the murder of a black man by an angry white mob of men, who are unfounded in their belief that he raped a white woman. This action is a clear demonstration of the hatred they have for him based solely on his skin color; he represents a larger threat to them, regardless of whether or not he committed the crime.

The hatred goes both ways; in "That Evening Sun," Jesus expresses resentment for the white men of the town who can come onto his property whenever they like, while he is not allowed to hang around their homes.

Tension between Indians and black people

In "Red Leaves," the Indians have begun to act like white people, taking black slaves. They dislike the black race, commenting that "they are savages." They treat the slaves like animals, insisting that when The Man dies, he be buried not only with his horse and dog, but also with his slave.

The relationship between Indians and white people

In "Red Leaves," it becomes clear that the attempts of Indians to emulate white people are absurd. Doom, the first Man, earned his name from the Chevalier Soeur Blonde de Vitry, who called him simply, du homme. Doom, a bastardization of the French word for "man," is a fitting title for the Indian who leads his people in a ridiculous attempt to emulate the white slaveowners.

The Indians don't know what to do with all the slaves they own; they know they are valuable and can be traded for money, but they don't have any need for money, either. When Issetibbeha tries to have his wife sleep in the gilt bed he brought back from Paris, she secretly sleeps on the floor because the ridiculous bed is too uncomfortable.

"Lo!" is built around the tense relationship between the nameless President and Secretary and the native people whom they have put themselves in charge of. The words of the Indians in the hallway in the first scene are ironic, since they represent the ideas of the white people. What they say about the white people is more expected to be said by the white people about them: "You dont' understand white people. They are like children: you have to handle them careful because you never know what they are going to do next."


In "Barn Burning," Sarty struggles with his father's understanding of justice versus his own. Abner's destructive, resentment-driven form of justice has been part of his life forever, but he can see that it is wrong and wishes it would stop. The gap between justice and law is made apparent by the two Justices of the Peace being unable to prosecute Abner for his crimes for lack of evidence.

The gap between justice and the law is also pointed out in "Lo!" by Weddel/Vidal, the Chicksaw chief, who brings his nephew to Washington to be judged by the President. And yet, the white man whom his nephew seems to have killed was not breaking the law in shrewdly purchasing the land at the entrance to the ford. However, justice still seems to be served in the eyes of the remorseless nephew, who killed him for his manipulation.

Civil War hatred

In "There Was a Queen," Aunt Jenny, otherwise characterized as noble and classy, rudely leaves the table when Narcissa invites the Federal agent to dinner:

...she knew at once he was a Jew, and when he spoke to her her outrage became fury and she jerked back in the chair like a striking snake, the motion strong enough to thrust the chair back from the table. "Narcissa," she said, "what is this Yankee doing here?"

In "Mountain Victory," Vatch exemplifies the theme of hatred between the North and the South, even though he was on the victor's side. He is so scarred by war that he cannot imagine being welcoming to Weddel, an ex-Confederate soldier. Hule reports to Weddel that "he can still hear you uns yelling. I used to sleep with him and he wakes up at night and once paw had to keep him from choking me to death before he waked up and him sweating, hearing you uns yelling still." Even though Vatch is the executioner in this story, killing Weddel and his own brother accidentally, he is also a victim of war.