Is Emily a victim of societal conventions, what can be said about her father's status, and how responsible is the community for Emily's behavior?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the interpretation of Faulkner's iconic story is that Emily represents the Old South in conflict with the new, here are responses:

As a woman enmeshed in a patriarchal society, she is somewhat of a victim of the conventions of a society. While her father is alive, she is certainly dominated as evinced in her manners, and visualized in a portrait of her father and her: 

We had long though 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.

That Emily has been trapped in the conventions is exemplified in the exposition of the story as Emily is described in this manner,

Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town....

In fact, this description of Miss Emily Grierson is thematic of the story: as such a "tradition," "duty," and "care," Emily conflicts with her society, having been raised by her father who has trapped her in his repressive patriarchal and class-conscious society by controlling her life and manners, and by running off her suitors when she was young. 

When the annual taxes are levied, Emily, who is trapped in the aristocratic life of her father, responds in the manner of a Southern lady, writing a note on paper of "an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink" to the effect that she does not go out at all. Inside the envelop is the tax notice, "without comment." When the alderman visit her, Miss Emily informs them, "See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson." Thus, the duty falls upon the townspeople. And, when a few of the ladies have "the temerity" to call upon her, Miss Emily dismisses them, refusing their care. Even when the townspeople complain of a malodorous smell, Judge Stevens, who recognizes Miss Emily's former social position replies, "will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

Emily's isolation from the modern community worsens as she becomes more reclusive. Thus disassociated from the community, Emily is ill for a while. When she does emerge from her house, it is with a foreman of the road crew, Homer Barron, "a Yankee." At first some are glad that Emily has "an interest"; however, the older people are disturbed that "a real lady" would forget noblesse oblige and step from her social class and violate her cultural background. And, then, as she continues her courtship with Homer, the older people pity her: "Poor Emily. Do you suppose it's really so?" Yet, Emily remains proud, demanding "the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson."

Emily's odd behavior is as much effected by the community as it is by her dominating father. For, in their perception of Emily as a "fallen monument" who "passed from generation to generation" the townspeople, in a sense, demand that Emily remain distinct from them as she can relate to no one and must associate with a stranger or not at all. When they do call upon Miss Emily it is out of obligation to attain her taxes, or from curiosity to see into her private life, or from complaint; but never with any sense of brotherly love or wish to include her in the community. Moreover, Emily becomes so mythicized that at the funeral, the old men--"some in their brushed Confederate uniforms"--imagine having danced with her and courted her; and, people enter her house as though inspecting a haunted home.

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A Rose for Emily

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