A Rose for Emily
by William Faulkner
A Rose for Emily Theme of Memory and the Past
Gavin Stevens (a William Faulkner character) famously says, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." This idea is highly visible in all Faulkner's work, and we definitely see it here, in "A Rose for Emily." Spanning approximately 74 years, this short story spins backwards and forwards in time like memory, and shows a southern town torn between the present and the past. Post-Civil War and Pre-Civil Rights, "A Rose for Emily" shows us an American South in limbo, trying desperately, with each generation, to find a better way, a way which honors the good of the past, while coming to terms with its evils.
Questions About Memory and the Past
- If this story is a memory, whose memory is it?
- Does this memory work the way that your memory works? That is, do you remember your life and your history in a straight time line, or do you skip around back and forth?
- Is Emily trapped by the past? If so, which elements of the past trap her? Does she try to escape the trap?
- Can you think of any examples of where the past and the present are in conflict in the story? If not, how are the past and present working in sync.
Chew on This
When Miss Emily begins dating Homer Barron, she is trying to free herself from her father's past control, and from the tradition of being a proper lady.
The story's structure is meant to mimic the way that memories are passed on from one generation to the next.