What is Emily's view of the "New South" in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Miss Emily Grierson grew up in the "Old South" and never moved beyond that. She grew up in the antebellum South, at a time when southern women were too genteel to deal with money matters or, frankly, anything that was considered unladylike.

She lives in

a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street.

As the "New South" emerges and technology advances, however, the Grierson house grows out of place. 

[G]arages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps—an eyesore among eyesores.

For a time, after her father died and left Miss Emily only the house, the mayor of the town felt the need to find a genteel way to let Miss Emily avoid paying her taxes; however, that is because the mayor, Colonel Sartoris, was also a man of the Old South. "When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction."

This is the beginning of Miss Emily's constant conflict between the old and the new; interestingly enough, this rather pitiable relic of an earlier time wins the battle every time.

The town wants her to pay her taxes, but she refuses and they are unable to make her pay. "So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell." (The townspeople smelled something odd emanating from her house, but they were unable to discover the cause because it would have been an insult to tell a southern gentlewoman that she smells.) 

When Miss Emily begins an affair with Homer Barron, the women of the town send the Baptist minister in to talk to her (since none of the townspeople wanted to do the deed) about her immoral situation (which is ironic, since the "new" should have been more tolerant than the "old.")

He would never divulge what happened during that interview, but he refused to go back again. The next Sunday [Homer and Miss Emily] again drove about the streets....

The townspeople are part of the New South, and they often find themselves pitying Miss Emily. Miss Emily, however, completely dismisses anything new and continues to act as she was taught--with perhaps the ironic and glaring exception of Homer Barron. Buying rat poison and killing a man because she was afraid he would leave her certainly does not seem in keeping with the thinking of the Old South. Perhaps she is, after all, more modern in her thinking than anyone thought. 

And now Miss Emily [has] 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.

Read the study guide:
A Rose for Emily

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