In "A Rose for Emily," what are the lingering expectations of the upper class regarding integrity and appropriate behavior?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the exposition of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the narrators affirm their respect for Miss Emily Grierson, who represents "a fallen monument" whose "august" name has been one respected in the town. Because her father was one of the pillars of the old community, friends with Colonel Sartoris, Emily is respected as a member of the town's old aristocracy. Therefore, in Part III when Emily is seen with "a foreman named Horace Barron, a Yankee," on Sunday afternoons, they are surprised.

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, others are appalled that a lady such as Miss Emily, should forget "noblesse oblige," although they do not use the term. Instead, they extend their pity to a lady who has lowered herself to associate with the lower class as they remark, "Poor Emily. Her kinfolk should come to her," suggesting that her relatives need to remind Miss Emily Grierson of her station. Clearly, then, the townspeople are surprised at Emily's behavior, and they disapprove of her unladylike conduct in associating with one such as Homer Barron. However, Emily ignores the social disapproval as she feels herself above the others.

Likewise, the townspeople are surprised at the rumors of Miss Emily's having purchased arsenic and her lack of integrity in not explaining for what purpose she wants it. 

Miss Emily just stared at him [the druggist], her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye.

The druggist said...."If that what you want . But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for."

Miss Emily does, however, take advantage of her social position in demanding the arsenic without giving a reason for wanting it. This behavior is, also, inappropriate, but she feels justified in it, just as she has felt justified in "vanquishing" the Aldermen when they come to serve her taxes,

So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.

In another incident, Emily is not confronted because of her social position. When there is a malodorous smell about her place, there are complaints by townspeople, but Judge Stevens exclaims, "Dammit, sir,...will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?" and so no one says anything; instead, men sneak around her yard with lime, and sprinkle it into her cellar.

Certainly, Emily yet considers herself apart from the other members of the town; she is, indeed, a "fallen monument."

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A Rose for Emily

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