What was the status of Emily's family when her father was still alive?

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The family had once been prominent members of the town. This is exemplified by the fact that Colonel Sartoris, a member of the Old Establishment, knew her father and, in order to remit her taxes, said that her father had once let money to the town By remitting Emily's taxes, they were paying her father back. No one really believed the story, but the fact that she got away with it implies people's respect for the family. According to the narrator, people in the town believed that "the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were." In other words, the family must have had money at one time, but that money was all spent during her father's lifetime. Despite this, "None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily." and she never married. The only image that was left suggests that her father was rather overbearing and clung to old Southern traditions. The narrator writes,"We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily, a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip..." In fact, when her father died, people said that all she had left in the world was the house and they believed she would become "humanized" by learning the value of money. Ironically, Emily seemed to ignore both the townspeople and her lack of money, preferring her own fantasy world to the real one.

ladyvols1's profile pic

ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Before the death of Mr. Grierson, Emily’s father, the family was not well liked by the town.  Faulkner wrote that the town thought the Griersons seemed to feel that they were superior to the rest of the townsfolk. 

"Emily is born to a proud, aristocratic family sometime during the Civil War; her life in many ways reflects the disintegration of the Old South during the Reconstruction and the early twentieth century. Although her mother is never mentioned, her father plays an important part in shaping her character." 

  She was a spinster and living with her father. She did not “date” and didn’t seem to have a social life.  It wasn’t until after his death that the town found out Emily’s father didn’t leave her anything but the house and for all intense and purposes she was a pauper. 

 “The town was “glad” and could at last pity Miss Emily. When townspeople came to call on Miss Emily, “she met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face.” Miss Emily went on to explain to her callers that her father was not dead, and it took three full days before the minister and the doctors could persuade Miss Emily to let them dispose of her father’s body properly.”
mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the second paragraph, the description of Emily's house tells much of her family:

It was 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.

The narration continues, describing "Miss Emily" as a "tradition" whose father was exempted from paying taxes by Colonel Sartoris, the mayor because Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town. 

Years later, Miss Emily displays a rather haughty attitude when the aldermen call upon her to demand payment of the taxes.  Likewise, she is aloof and distant toward her relatives who have been called by townspeople regarding Homer Barron, who as a common man and a Northerner is considered to be beneath Miss Emily who has forgotten "noblesse oblige."  At another time Emily gives lessons in painting china, an activity that ladies of the community practiced. Even her taste in the gifts she buys Homer indicate her higher social class:  Emily purchases a man's toilet set in silver and has it engraved. These details indicate that Miss Emily's family was a well-to-do, respected, and prominent family in the town.

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