How is the story "A Rose for Emily" a conflict between North and South?

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William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” takes place in the fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi after the Civil War. The postbellum South saw changes in their economics as they depended on agriculture from their plantations, but they held on to their social hierarchies and traditions. While the north became financially stronger as the industry and manufacturing jobs develop. Emily Grierson can be viewed as a symbol of the old south. While the town is modernizing, Emily stays in the past. She refuses to adapt to change; she won’t pay taxes, won’t get a new mailbox, or even give up her father’s body once he dies.

The opposite of the traditional south (and Emily) is the north- an area more adaptable and open to change. Homer Barron is also Emily’s opposite. He comes from the north to help pave the sidewalks of Jefferson, so unlike her high society status, he is a hardworking blue-collar laborer. He is described as a perpetual bachelor who doesn’t really want anything serious. He plans to come and do his job and then leave, but Emily believes that she has found love and that they will marry.

Emily and her house are often compared to the fallen monuments after the war. Similar to Emily, “A Rose for Emily” looks at the inability to move on as a bad thing. The south and Emily hold on so tightly to the past that they cannot move on and, in the end, die.

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Clearly, Faulkner intends to evoke the simmering tensions between North and South in the aftermath of the Civil War in "A Rose for Emily." Whether he intended for the story to function as an allegory is another story. The narrator describes Emily as a "fallen monument," a vestige of the past in a town that is experiencing rapid change in the form of modernization. This change takes the form of Homer Barron, a man described as a "Yankee" who has come to town as a foreman for a construction company contracted to pave the sidewalks in the sleepy old town. When Emily begins to spend time with him, the town is scandalized—he is a Northerner, after all, and he is employed in work that the townsfolk do not view as particularly dignified. When it apparently turns out that he is not interested in marriage, Emily kills him with arsenic. The townspeople discover his severely decomposed body in the house (after smelling it much earlier) when she finally dies. Was Faulkner trying to suggest that Emily, a relic of the Old South, was getting revenge on a Northern man responsible for modernity? Faulkner himself focused on the personal aspect of their relationship in a 1955 interview:

She picked out probably a bad [man], who was about to desert her. And when she lost him she could see that for her that was the end of life, there was nothing left, except to grow older, alone, solitary; she had had something and she wanted to keep it, which is bad—to go to any length to keep something; but I pity Emily. 

Whether Faulkner intends for Emily's tragedy to mirror that of the Old South is not clear, but, on a personal level, the interaction between this lonely Southern woman and a Northern interloper is both poignant and bizarre. 

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William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” contains several different conflicts. One of those is the tension between the North and South in the post-reconstruction era United States. This conflict is primarily realized in the story through the character of Homer Barron, Emily Grierson’s love interest.

In the story, we can see Emily’s father as representing the Old South and its traditions. His daughter, when we first meet her, seems to embody those same characteristics. However, once her father dies, she begins what is at least an infatuation, and what may be a love affair, with a man from the North.

Homer Barron, Emily's love interest, is a northerner who has come to town as foreman of a sidewalk paving project. Thus, Homer is not only a carpetbagger – a term used for northerners who came to the South to make money during and after reconstruction – he also represents forces trying to change the town. He embodies the unwanted changes that the South saw as being imposed on it by the North.

Emily’s relationship with Homer is surprising to the townspeople, and many disapprove to the point of seeking help from her relatives to force Emily to end the relationship. The narrator emphasis the difference between Emil and Homer, and in those differences we can see the tensions between the traditions of the Old South and the modern practices of the North that were being brought to the South during and after reconstruction.

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