In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," there are several instances in which Emily Grierson's behavior stands in contrast to the changing world around her. The narrator gives us many examples of how Miss Emily keeps to tradition and remains unchanged in her behavior by the passage of time. The three most prominent instances are her response to the attempt by the town government to collect property taxes from her when she was an old woman, her reaction to her father's death when she was a young woman, and, most significantly, her desire to keep Homer Barron with her even in his death.
The first major example that the narrator gives us of Miss Emily's refusal to change with the world around her is the incident of her unpaid property taxes. This incident occurs when Miss Emily is an old woman. Her behavior in response to a delegation from the town government shows the reader that she does not acknowledge change as ongoing:
"I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves."
"But we have. 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."
"But, Miss Emily--"
"See Colonel Sartoris." (Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years.) "I have no taxes in Jefferson.
Miss Emily does not accept that she might owe taxes or that the circumstances around her have changed; rather, she directs them to see a mayor who has been deceased for a decade.
The next incident that the narrator relays is the account of how Miss Emily reacts to her father’s death. Her behavior again shows that she is unwilling to accept, or even acknowledge, change:
The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.
The final and most important example of Miss Emily’s behavior standing in contrast to the changes occurring around her comes with the reveal at the end of the story, namely that Miss Emily has kept Homer Barron’s body in her bedroom after his death:
For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him. What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.
Clues from the story (i.e. the purchase of arsenic, the smell around her house, and Homer Barron’s last known appearance in town all coming at the same time) suggest not only that she has kept Homer Barron’s remains for decades, but that she also may have instigated his death. From this the reader can conclude that Miss Emily acts to resist Homer Barron leaving her in both life and in death, which is the greatest change we know.
These three major incidents all show that Miss Emily’s behavior in the story is at odds with change. They are bolstered by many other minor suggestions by the narrator that Miss Emily represents a fading tradition, and that she refuses to adapt to the world as it moves on around her.