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One: Southern business was in transition. On the first page of the story, Faulkner tells us in the second paragraph that Emily's house set on "what had once been our most select street" and goes on to describe the way businesses have changed. In chapter 3, he also reveals that the old prejudices against African Americans and day laborers still existed along with pressure on Emily to uphold noblesse oblige. With her family support and old way of life largely gone and the new way of life closed to her, Emily is stranded in between, in economic, emotional, and romantic limbo, as far as society goes.
Two: Local government was shifting to a younger generation. In the first chapter, the narrator describes the way the old city officials handled - or rather mishandled - Emily's tax problem as well as efforts by the next generation. Cololonel Sartoris, the mayor, was unwilling to confront Emily about her taxes so he fabricated and perpetuated a lie that she had none. Neither the mayor nor Emily saw this as fraud, theft, tax evasion, or heaven forbid, charity. The description of the meeting in her home suggests that the narrator may have been part of that visit and therefore perhaps one of the modern aldermen. We also learn in chapter 2's discussion of "the smell" that one of the previous mayor's had been reluctant to confront Emily about that, too. Mayor Stevens asks if the younger alderman concerned about the smell "will accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?" This deference resulted from Emily's status as a wealthy - or at least formerly wealthy - white lady from an established family.
Three: The chastity and honor of Southern women was held to a very high standard, especially among the upper class and older families. The story also reveals animosity and envy toward the rich which found its expression as well in the societal enforcement of these old-fashioned standards against Emily and Homer. The whisper campaign - "Poor Emily" - detailed in chapter 3 and community pressure, discussed in chapter 4, to break up or marry knowing he was opposed to marriage stem nominally from the chivalric code of honor in the South. The romantic adventure novels of Sir Walter Scott inspired a good deal of this Southern mindset. It was probably just something they could enforce on Emily, something they could take away from her, as it is clear throughout the story how much she was resented for her perceived wealth, status, spirit, and life of ease.
Four - bonus! - The effect of Sir Walter Scott was fading in other areas of Southern culture. The honorary titles such as Colonel Sartoris and probably Judge Stevens are fixtures of the old system. The new sheriff and city authorities don't seem to wield these distinctive titles. Mark Twain was critical of these titles and the entire system of duels, chivalric code, and so forth that he felt stemmed from Sir Walter Scott. Twain saw the fake titles as a symptom of the entire worldview and suggested the way the Southern culture had adopted these romantic values contributed to the civil war. Faulkner certainly suggests in the story that those who subscribe to the old view (Colonel Sartoris and Emily) are less progressive. In chapter 1 we learn the mayor wrote a local ordinance requiring African American women to wear aprons in public, for example.
From the onset of Faulkner's story, the reader becomes aware of the old Southern culture that casts a certain macabre pall upon the narrative. In the opening paragraph, Miss Emily Grierson is alluded to as "a fallen monument." Further, she is described as,
... a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the down, date from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor--he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her late father on into perpetuity....
As "a hereditary obligation" a deputation of aldermen must call upon Emily, and they are admitted by the "old Negro" into a dim hall that smells of disuse. There in the parlor is a tarnished gilt easel on which stands the portrait of Emily's father looming out of the past. So, intimidated by the past, the contigent departs.
Faulkner himself has commented upon "A Rose for Emily" as a "ghost story"; the shadows of the Old South hang upon the town with the past represented by Emily, the "old Negro servant," and the board of Aldermen fromColonel Sartoris' generation. After Emily dies, the very old men in Confederate uniforms from which the dust has been brushed, speak of Miss Emily as though they had known her, believing that they have dances with her, even courted her. Because Emily represents for them a former life, their memories confuse time, and in their minds they return to the Old South.
With Death as a recurring motif, "A Rose for Emily" abounds with images from the past of an Old South, men long ago dead, tarnished gilt flattering only an old painting).
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