What contrasts and oppositions are developed in "A Rose for Emily"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several thematic oppositions present in Faulkner's Gothic narrative, "A Rose for Emily":

The New South vs. the Old South

  • Emily Grierson is raised under the patriarchal values of the Old South, sheltered from the contemporary world while her father lives, a time in which other men such as Colonel Sartoris cover afford them exception from paying taxes and other political favors. Lost in this era, she is described by the townspeople as "a fallen monument,"

a tradition, a duty, and a care:  a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town

  • Emily later teaches china painting, an art taught to the daughters of the South; however, once the parents who remember this era are gone, there are no longer any students for Miss Emily and she closes her doors, only "the Negro man went in and out with the market basket" and Emily is not seen.
  • When there is a strange and terrible odor emanating from Miss Emily's house, the town leader, Judge Stevens replies in words from the Old Southern culture,

"Dammit...will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

  • At Emily's funeral, there is the portraiture of her father yet looming over her, exerting its old influence, and 

the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men--some in their brushed confederate uniforms--...talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs....

The North vs. the South

  • The appearance of Homer Barron, a Yankee, escorting Miss Emily after she has been sick for a long time subsequent to her father's death causes various reactions from the townspeople:

At first we were glad that Miss Emily would have an interest, because the ladies all said, "Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer." 

But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige....

  • Miss Emily's Alabama relatives arrive to dissuade her from consorting with a Yankee, and Homer Barron "was gone."

Emily vs. the Community

  • Perceived as from another era, Emily is an anomaly in her own town. For, the townspeople view her askance as she has lived a reclusive and repressive life under the patriarchy of her father; furthermore, after his death, when Emily contends that he is not dead for three days, then breaks down, the townspeople believe that Emily has felt compelled 

...to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

  • When Emily is seen with Homer Barron, many in the town disapprove.  Then, after she orders arsenic, they believe she will kill herself.
  • Emily secludes herself from society except for a short time that she gives lessons in china painting. After that

...she passed from generation to generation--dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.

Emily vs. Patriarchy

  • Repressed by her father, who has dismissed all her suitors when she was young, Emily seeks love with Homer Barron, but when he departs for a time, she acts in the same pattern as her behavior after her father's death: she "cling[s] to that which had robbed her, as people will" and revolts against losing another beau. In tragic action, Emily holds onto this last beau, if only in death.


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A Rose for Emily

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