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Why does the narrator mention "no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an...

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Why does the narrator mention "no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron" in "A Rose for Emily"?

As the narrator is telling the story of how Emily's taxes were remitted, he remarks that Colonel Sartoris is the father of an edict declaring that "No Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron." Why do you think the narrator mentions this law? What does this remark tell us about Colonel Sartoris and the narrator?

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At the time that “A Rose for Emily” takes place, racism is an institution.  Therefore a Negro woman is a maid and nothing else.  The edict exemplifies how Miss Emily’s father established the town’s morality.

The narrator brings up the edict requiring a Negro woman to wear an apron in public to serve two purposes.  It frames the setting by telling us about Colonel Santoris, and by extension Emily.  We learn what kind of people they are.  The colonel was mayor and therefore in a position of power, and he used that power to keep the Negro down.

Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town… (para 3)

Colonel Santoris and Emily are town institutions.  Since Colonel Santoris had been the mayor, he established the town and its moral code.  The story takes place in the South, and the edict about the apron was from 1894.  At that time, Negros were free citizens, but no one was going to see them as equals.

After her father dies, Emily becomes a recluse but keeps a Negro man as a servant.

We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro. He talked to no one, probably not even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse. (para 52)

Emily is still important to the town, but she is more of a myth or legend than a real person.  It is ironic that her only human contact is the Negro.  She does not see him as an equal, but as an inferior.

Since the narrator of the story is the town, the comment is just part of sharing who Emily is through her family's importance.  Faulkner develops the theme of Southern tradition by grounding the reader in Emily's world.


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