Some critics have suggested that Miss Emily Grierson is a kind of symbol of the Old South, with its outdated ideas of chivalry, formal manners, and tradition. In what sense is she also a victim of...

1 Answer | Add Yours

auntlori's profile pic

Posted on

This is a good question. The protagonist in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner is Miss Emily Grierson, and she is unquestionably a product of her Old Southern upbringing. She does not deal with money or do her own shopping, which is why the town has such a difficult time dealing with her about her unpaid taxes and why she has had a servant (Tobe) all her life.

She neither thinks nor acts like anyone but the oldest people in town (who were also raised in the traditions of the Old South), and even where she lives is part of an earlier tradition and way of life which is now decaying. These are not particularly crippling effects of the way she was raised, but at least one other thing about her particular upbringing changed the course of her entire life.

Miss Emily is an old maid (or perhaps since she is a Southern lady I should say "spinster," which is a bit more dignified), and that is only because her father followed the traditions of the Old South. Every potential suitor had to be approved by him, and he found none of them suitable. Because of that, Miss Emily lived most of her life alone and unmarried.

We know that, while she was obedient to her father's wishes regarding who she could marry (which is certainly the epitome of Old Southern outdated formality), she had to have resented him for that. In fact, Faulkner gives us a vivid picture of what life must have been like for her.

None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such. We [the townspeople] had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door.

Her life could not have been a pleasant one, as she was forced to adhere to the rigid confines of the Old Southern ways and traditions. It is not surprising, then, that when her father dies, Miss Emily would not let him go, probably as some kind of punishment rather than out of actual grief.

The only time Miss Emily seems happy is when she is breaking the code of her Old Southern upbringing and has a rather scandalous affair with Homer Barron, a northern carpetbagger. Of course, this affair goes against every value and tradition her father instilled in her and eventually prompts her, in her desperation not to be left alone again, to kill and keep Homer Barron with her always. 

One other element of her upbringing, which Faulkner mentions more than once in the story, is the element of insanity which runs in Miss Emily's family. So, not only did she have to deal with the restrictions of the Old South's outdated moral code and traditions, but she also had to deal with craziness. Both elements of her upbringing created the person she became. 


We’ve answered 324,450 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question