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Key to understanding the character of Miss Emily Grierson are the descriptions that she is
...a fallen monument....a tradition, ...a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894....
Miss Emily is not of the next generation; she stands, bloated "like a body long submerged in motionless water." Her father's portrait rests on a tarnished gilt easel in front of the fireplace. Clearly, Miss Emily, who is among the dead and a dead way of life--an allusion to death is in nearly every paragraph of Part I--represents the Old South and a culture that has itself died. Thus, the opposition that she encounters is with the next generation of aldermen who do not honor the ancient agreement of Colonel Sartoris and the city authorities. Like her old house, Miss Emily Grierson is all that is left of an era gone by, "stubborn" in its decay as she "vanquishes" the aldermen and has them shown out of her dying house where the illusion of a dying way of way resides.
In section one of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the confrontation that is most prevalent is that between Miss Emily and the "Board of Aldermen" regarding Miss Emily's taxes. In no uncertain terms, Miss Emily has refused to pay the taxes. She bases this upon a remittance of her taxes, granted by Colonel Sartoris.
...Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the down, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor...remitted her taxes...on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity...
In essence, once Miss Emily's father died, the gallant Colonel Sartoris, the man of a generation long gone—that idealized and protected women (the weaker sex?)—pretended that the special arrangement came from a loan her father had made to the town that had never been repaid. As the generations (including Sartoris) passed, leaders of the community that followed were displeased, and so they tried to collect the taxes.
In January a notice was delivered to her house. She ignored it. A letter followed and Miss Emily wrote a response, not mentioning the taxes, returning the notice to community leaders, declining an invitation to meet with the sheriff. Because Miss Emily would not go to them, they decided to "call" on her. This "deputation" was shown into the house by Tobe, Miss Emily's manservant.
It is quite possible that the mere physical presence of Miss Emily made the men ill at ease:
...she entered—a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.
And while she was small, older and of another generation ("old-fashioned" they might have thought), these things possibly deceived the men into believing that they would be able to handle her without much trouble. It is safe to infer that Miss Emily was not what they expected—certainly not a member of the "weaker" sex. She did not indulge in social niceties—never asked them to sit, but she did make it quite clear that she did not owe any taxes.
The men tried to explain that they were the "city authorities;" that the "sheriff" had contacted her (she was unimpressed); and, that there was no paperwork to support her claim that Sartoris had indeed dismissed any payment of taxes by her until her death. In essence, she told the men that it was not her problem, and instructed them to look elsewhere for their answers:
"But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see. We must go by the—"
"See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But, Miss Emily—"
"See Colonel Sartoris...I have no taxes in Jefferson. Tobe!...Show these gentlement out."
(It is also noted here that Colonel Sartoris had died ten years earlier.) There was no further discussion. Perhaps because the agreement was made during a time when a handshaked sealed a business agreement and no contracts were necessary, the aldermen found it impossible to force Miss Emily to pay taxes based on an arrangement that was so old. Miss Emily refused to budge; she refused to listen. She repeated herself and then dismissed the men. She never did pay taxes again in Jefferson.
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