In "A Rose for Emily," how is Colonel Sartoris' white lie an attempt to spare Emily any embarrassment?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the major conflicts that is alluded to in this excellent short story by William Faulkner is the way in which the values of the old South compare and contrast with the values of the new South. Both Colonel Sartoris and Emily Grierson belong to the old South, and as such, when Miss Emily's father dies, leaving her in penury, Colonel Sartoris feels obliged to chivalrously create a situation which would allow Miss Emily to be supported without her knowledge by the community. Thus it is that he creates the elaborate fiction to spare Miss Emily the embarrassment of knowing that such a woman from such a high class needs to accept charity. Note what the text tells us:

Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.

Notice how this quote indicates this action was only possible for a man of Colonel Sartoris' "generation," and it was only Miss Emily's naivety that allowed her to believe it. Thus the white lie is created chivalrously to spare Miss Emily the knowledge that she is a charity case.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the short story, the town describes how Colonel Sartoris made Emily Grierson exempt from paying taxes in Jefferson out of respect and courtesy after her father passed away. Colonel Sartoris lied to Emily by telling her that her father had loaned money to the town in the past and this was Jefferson's way of repaying Mr. Grierson. Colonel Sartoris was a traditional man and was considered part of the Old South. The Griersons were a prestigious family in Jefferson who had lost their wealth after the Civil War. Colonel Sartoris understands that Emily has little money, so he creates this tale out of respect and sympathy. Faulkner writes,

"Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it" (1).

Faulkner implies that only a man from the Old South would have taken such a chivalrous action to spare Emily Grierson the embarrassment of not being able to pay her taxes. For a woman of Emily's caliber and class to not be able to pay her taxes would have been extremely embarrassing. Unlike Colonel Sartoris, the new generation does not feel obliged to accommodate Emily in the same manner and desperately attempts to make her pay taxes.