In "A Rose for Emily," what does Faulkner mean by "august names"? Who are they?
In the second paragraph of William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily," Emily Grierson's once elegant home is described as a decaying eyesore, where old cotton wagons and broken gasoline pumps are strewn throughout the yard. Faulkner then comments on Emily's death and funeral by writing,
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. (1)
William Faulkner uses the word "august," which means distinguished or respected, to describe the family names of those individuals buried in the same cemetery as Emily. Essentially, Faulkner is commenting on the prestigious plantation-owning families and ranked Confederate soldiers of the Antebellum era.
The Griersons are considered an "august" family because of their wealth, power, and social-status throughout the town of Jefferson. Before the Civil War, the Griersons and other plantation-owning families made their fortunes off of slave labor. Following the Civil War, the majority of these distinguished, successful families lost their wealth, along with their prestige, after slavery became illegal. Emily is considered a "fallen monument" and symbolizes the decline of the Old South following the Civil War.
Faulkner gives a depressing description of how the splendor of the "Old South" has succumbed even after the attempts of the Reconstruction and the imminent onset of modern times.
garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood;
Those who once had power, money and distinction, such as the Griersons, lost everything after fall of the Confederates in the Civil War. Even many years after the end of the war, which is when this story takes place, there is still an overall inability to restore what once was.
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.
Therefore Faulker is referring to those people who may have probably still been powerful and distinctive had the war never taken place. The problem with those individuals is that, like Emily, they were understandably unable to accept that their glory is, and forever will, remain a vestige of the past.
The word "august" here means distinguished, or important. That means that the august names in the town are the names of the people who are important in that town.
In this case, the term is used to refer to people who are dead. We are not told exactly who they are, but we do know that these were the people who built the houses in the rich neighborhood where Miss Emily lived. It may be that they were the slaveholders who were once rich, but who lost much of their wealth after the Civil War.