William Faulkner grew up in the southern state of Mississippi. He knew southern people and the southern way of life. His creation of the town of Jefferson, Miss Emily Grierson's hometown, rivals his hometown of Oxford. In "A Rose for Emily," Faulkner tips his hat at the "Old South" as the new south is ushered in place.
The story of Miss Emily spans over 74 years. Emily lived before the Civil War, during the Civil War, and after the war ended. However, Emily and her father symbolized the Old South--a time similar to Arthurian times when women were defended and cherished but had no individual rights. It was a time of genteel manners, courtesies, and niceties.
Emily's father had ruled her life while he was alive. Keeping her from a happy life of her own, her father ran off all of her suitors. Neither did he prepare her for life without him. She knew nothing of taking care of property or such manly things as taxes. Emily was her father's companion. When he died, Emily knew her future was bleak so she refused to admit that her father had died. After his death, Emily was left penniless and without a future.
The new south is much less cultured. After the Civil War, the south was all about surviving. Gone were the days of the women on a pedestal replaced by the hard work needed to rebuild lives. Emily shut herself off from this tedious world and lived with her only companion, Tobe, the black servant.
The only time that Emily faces off against the new blood demonstrates. Emily's unwillingness to face reality and accept death. The new councilmen came to collect the property taxes that Emily owed the city:
We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn't you get a notice from the sheriff, signed by him?"
"I received a paper, yes," Miss Emily said. "Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff . . . I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see. We must go by the--"
"See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.
With those words, Emily dismisses the men. To understand their quandry, Colonel Sartoris had been dead for many years.
When Homer Barron comes to town to work, the North will meet the South again. This time it is Homer squiring Emily around in a buggy on Sundays. An announced homosexual, Homer told his men friends that he would never marry. The rumors fly that Emily is a fallen woman. It does not matter because before the job is over, and Homer leaves town. What would Emily's father have said about her getting friendly with a northern man?
In this case, the South beats the North. After Emily's death, the women of the town hurry to check out the house that no one but Tobe has seen for many years. Upstairs, they find the skeleton of Homer in his nightshirt and Miss Emily's gray hair on the pillow beside him.
In the South, men do not abandon women. Emily did not let Homer leave her. He found a permanent home with Emily.