A Rose For Emily and Other Short Stories



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Whitney (2003) sees commentary about society in the townspeople's treatment of Emily: "In this story, society isn't represented in a positive way. They are nosy and don't really care about anyone but themselves. All day long they sit there and gossip about Emily's life and her problems, but they never step up and ask her what's wrong or if there is anything that they can do. Once she dies, they go to her funeral just so they can see her house. What does that say about society?"


The Decline of the Old South

One of the major themes in Faulkner’s fiction is the decline of the Old South after the Civil War. There are many examples of this theme in ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ Before the Civil War, Southern society was composed of landed gentry, merchants, tenant farmers, and slaves. The aristocratic men of this period had an

unspoken code of chivalry, and women were the innocent, pure guardians of morality. For example, Colonel Sartoris concocts an elaborate story to spare Emily’s feelings when he remits her taxes; the narrator states,‘Only a man of Colonel Sartoris’s generation and thought could have invented [the story], and only a

woman could have believed it.’’ When the smell develops around the Grierson house, a younger man suggests that Emily should be confronted with it. Judge Stevens, who is from the same generation as the Colonel, asks him, ‘‘Dammit, sir … will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?’’ It is also noted that

Emily’s father is from this same generation, an arrogant Southern aristocrat who believes that no man is good enough for his daughter.

However, post-Civil War society in the South was radically different. At one time, the Grierson home was in one of the finest neighborhoods in Jefferson; by the time of Emily’s death, ‘‘garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood.’’ The generation that follows Colonel Sartoris is not swayed by his old Southern code of honor. This is why the twentieth-century Jefferson Board of Aldermen attempts to collect Emily’s taxes a decade after the Colonel’s death. The reaction to the Yankee Homer Barron, also serves to delineate the difference between the generations. The younger generation finds it easier to accept Homer, while the older folks find his relationship with a woman born to old

Southern gentility unacceptable. Emily’s china-painting lessons also show the change in Southern society. Her pupils are the daughters and grand-daughters of Colonel Sartoris’s contemporaries. However, the narrator notes that ‘‘the painting pupils grew up and fell away and did not send their children to her with boxes of color and tedious brushes and pictures cut from the ladies’ magazines.’’ Finally, Emily’s dark secret might serve as a metaphor for the general decadence of the Old South.