Why does Emily have a distrust of Northern Yankees in WIlliam Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The interesting thing about Miss Emily Grierson in "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner, is that she should have a distrust of Northern Yankees, but she does not--at least not at first. 

Miss Emily is living in a post-Civil War world while acting like it is still the Antebellum South. The first thing we learn about her is where she lives:

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. But garages 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. 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.

Though her house may once have been fashionable and typical, it is now a kind of anachronism. Her street used to be the "select street in town," but it is not so any longer. Her house is like her: stubborn, coquettish, and decaying. Her house is an eyesore and so is she, as she has not moved beyond the ideals and mores of her growing-up years before the war. When she dies, she is buried where she most belongs, next to the soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The world has changed but she has not. 

With this mentality, then, Miss Emily should never have had anything but disdain for Northern Yankees, especially in the form of carpet-baggers who came to the South after the Civil War to capitalize on the destruction they (the North) caused. But then she meets the charming Homer Barron,

a Yankee—a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face. The little boys would follow in groups to hear him cuss the riggers, and the riggers singing in time to the rise and fall of picks. Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group.

Soon he and Miss Emily are in a rather scandalous relationship. This relationship is shocking because of the immorality of such behavior, but mostly because Barron is a Yankee. At first no one believed it was true because “'[o]f course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer.'” When everyone finally realizes that Miss Emily is, indeed, having an affair with Barron, they pity her and refer to her as "poor Emily." None of this affects Miss Emily (a quality we have seen in her before), and she continues to hold her head high, in her usual imperious manner.

After a time, the construction projects are finished and Barron leaves, but he returns a few days later. Miss Emily deliberately buys rat poison as well as "a man's toilet set" with Barron's initials, part of a rather insane plan to keep Barron with her always. The town believes the couple is getting married; she is prepared to do something drastic to keep him from leaving. She obviously did not trust Homer Barron, a Northern Yankee, to keep coming back to her, so she killed him. Perhaps he should have displayed a bit more distrust. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the daughter of a Southern gentleman whose friends such as Colonel Sartoris fought in the Civil War, it would be the natural thing for Emily, "a daughter of the South," to repugn any attentions from (1) a Yankee/a former enemy, and (2) a common laborer. That she would do so is certainly the assumption of the townspeople, who observe her and remark, 

"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--without calling it noblesse oblige.

Arguably, then, there is yet a cultural divide that exists between the South and the North. So, when Emily, looking "sort of tragic and serene," accepts the advances of Homer Barron and is seen riding with him on Sunday afternoons, her behavior seems incongruous. 

Perhaps, however, it is not incongruous. Given Faulkner's manipulation of time in this story and the strange appearance of Emily with "her look like a girl," Emily may be delusional--thinking she is being courted as a young lady. That the minister who is asked to call upon her "would never divulge what happened during that interview" when he came to dissuade her from associating with Barron and refuses to return, suggests also that there is something very strange behind the scenes. Further, Emily goes to the druggist and demands arsenic, appearing

a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye sockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look.

While her re-emergence in the town after her father's burial is at first "[T]ragic and serene," now she is coldly haughty with strained flesh and eyes. In this Gothic tale, there is here the element of the bizarre and preternatural, as soon thereafter, the townspeople remark, "that was the last we saw of Homer Barron."

Apparently, Emily retains her distrust of Yankees and simply uses this man to fill the void left by the death of her father and the death of her life as a genteel "daughter of the South." She wreaks a revenge upon Homer as a Yankee, while at the same time she exploits him as a man to replace all those other men who were driven away by her father. In a grotesque fashion, Emily does what many Southerners did during Reconstruction--they "polited them to death" by appearing polite, but avenging themselves in different ways surreptitiously. Emily carries this expression to its literal end.

Just as the townspeople have remarked in Part II, then, Emily has been left with nothing, but 

...she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

Indeed, Emily clings to the dead Yankee as a symbol of her defeat of the North, an invasive culture which deprived her of her old world.

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A Rose for Emily

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