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Miss Emily's character in A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner is described in part by the narrator's description of her role in the town:
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town . . .
She is of the old southern aristocracy, and her character is dominated by pride in her family and class and love for and adherence to Southern tradition, of a sort that was disappearing. As a female, she regarded making a good marriage as part of her role. She saw being jilted as dishonorable, and because honor was a central part of her character, saw murder as less shameful than dishonor.
In addition to the sketch of Emily's character given above, Miss Emily Grierson, whose portrait reveals a woman whom Time has passed by, is a woman repressed by the patriarch of her family. One of the narrators notes,
We had long thought of them as a tableau: Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the foreground, 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.
So repressed is and sheltered in the life of the Old South's gentry is Emily that, when the old gentleman dies, the townspeople believe that Miss Emily has become humanized as she, too, would "know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny..." But, when the ladies of the town visit her, they find no trace of grief on her face, and she denies that her father has died. This macabre denial of Emily's continues for three days, even as doctors used their persuasive powers upon her. Finally, she breaks down and allows the authorities to bury her father. Desperately, Miss Emily of the Southern aristocracy has tried to "cling to that which had robbed her, as people will." So, she dresses with the watch and fob of her father on her, a reminder of the many times that her father ran off her gentlemen callers. But, when Homer Barron, a Northerner and a common laborer arrives in town, Emily rides on Sundays with him to the dismay of the older people who remark, "Poor Emily...." Nevertheless, Emily
demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson.
And, when Homer attempts to leave her and take from her this dignity. Emily stops him; she will not be denied. And, so, she dies, dies in her "inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse" world in her house filled with "dust and shadows" with a lonely stand of iron-grey hair upon a second pillow next to the skeletal remains of a man.
Miss Emily Grierson has changed from a repressed, young Southern lady, to a recluse, to a mockery of what she once was, to a ghost. And, it is for this tragic ghost that the author William Faulkner wrote that he named his story "A Rose for Emily" because
here was a woman who had had a tragedy... this was a salute... to a woman you would hand a rose.
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