In "A Rose for Emily," what does Miss Emily's relationship with the people in the town reveal about them?

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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the local townspeople are fascinated by Emily and the events of her household. There are several things you can consider when analyzing the town's relationship with Emily. First, evaluate the time and locale of Emily's life and home. Second, consider...

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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the local townspeople are fascinated by Emily and the events of her household. There are several things you can consider when analyzing the town's relationship with Emily. First, evaluate the time and locale of Emily's life and home. Second, consider the use of passive voice and the detached, third-person references in regard to the events of Emily's life after she has died.

When evaluating the time period and locale of Emily's home, consider that there are several indications in the short story that Faulkner set this tale in the American South. There are two primary references to the Confederacy in the short story. The first reference is early in the story and touches on the age of Miss Emily's home.

And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.

The second reference comes up later in the story but still directly in relation to Emily's death.

And the very old men—some in their brushed Confederate uniforms—on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.

When analyzing these details, consider that Faulkner implies that there are some significant cultural ties between Miss Emily and the history of the town. Miss Emily is essentially grandfathered into not owing taxes for her property and home after her father dies. This decision was made by the mayor at the time, Colonel Sartoris. Faulkner intentionally notes that Sartoris "fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron." This clearly ties Sartoris and Miss Emily to the old American South and its ways of life.

However, the next generation of townspeople do attempt to claim taxes from Miss Emily. They are not successful. This fact ties into the next element for you to consider—how the townspeople act passive-aggressively toward Miss Emily rather than confronting her directly.

Overall, the story of Miss Emily is an analogy for the American South. As she withers and decays and becomes less relevant, people whisper and gossip about her. However, because they consider her to be a relic of the past, they do not fully engage with her. While some might say that the newer generation is trying to simply be respectful, a reader could also analyze the story to show that each subsequent generation is just slightly more aware of how its elders have affected the world.

The following examples indicate that the town might be less ready to accept its historical role in slavery and oppression:

  • She owes taxes, but the newer townspeople don't force her to pay.
  • Many people smell a very foul odor outside Miss Emily's house, but they don't pry outside of visiting the grounds and spreading some lime.
  • When Homer Barron enters the house and never leaves, they ignore it.

Ultimately, Homer Barron is found dead in Emily's home after she has passed away of natural causes. The story implies Miss Emily poisoned him with arsenic and then lay down beside him in bed. After he died, she returned to her usual reclusive life.

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The people in town seem to be quite taken with Miss Emily.  They are constantly following her "story" almost in an obsessive way.  The ladies in town are so distraught by her relationship with Homer.  It's a disgrace to the town to have one of "their own" southerners dating a Yankee.  The older men in the town feel the same way and think it's an outrage. The younger genereation, however, sees it a little differently.  They are more flexible with society's rules.  Because of this mixture of feelings in town, it seems as if Emily is their entertainment over the years.  They watch to see what she does next.  She taught the painting for a while, but that was about it. She never comes out, and they wonder about what she's doing and what is in that house.  All the way up to the end, the town wants to see inside that house of hers.  They do get what they want in the end, though.  They find the skeleton in her bed.  Since the town acted like a nosy, little, old lady, it got what it deserved in the end.  The shock of their lives.

The fact that she had no relationship with anyone in town shows that they are all not as "proper" as one would think.  The act aloof and of a higher class, yet they do petty things like gossip and spread rumors.

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