Why was it difficult for Emily to meet suitable men in her youth in "A Rose for Emily"?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily Grierson is characterized as an eccentric woman with a penchant for isolation. These traits are not the product of old age, or a consequence of mental illness (that we know of). Instead, these behaviors stem from an overprotective upbringing that made her socially inadequate.

In the story, we learn that Mr. Grierson, Emily’s father, was known for his influence, his threatening demeanor, and his possessiveness of Emily, whom he always kept isolated from people whom he considered less worthy of his family. Essentially, Mr. Grierson thought that nobody was ever good enough for Emily, or for a Grierson, to that effect.

According to the townsfolk narrator:

We had long thought of them [Emily and her father] 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, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door.

The town people were fully aware of the situation and even felt sorry for the young Emily, whose youth seemed to be extinguishing away for no good reason.

So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized.

The people from town could even appreciate that Grierson’s death could mean a form of freedom for Emily. They even shift their anger toward the Grierson clan, in general, and spare Emily in full knowledge that she had no other choice but to do whatever her father expected of her.

When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. 

Therefore, the reason why Emily never found a suitable lover in her youth is because her father was too protective and territorial of her to allow her to even try.  The result of this form of captivity was that Emily never had any opportunity to meet, get to know, or even form any kind of stable relationship with someone of the opposite sex…at all. 

All that wasted time made her all the more awkward and prone to loneliness. So inept was she in the making of human connections that the only two men that she was able to establish any relationship with, Tobe and Homer, were both linked to her in unhealthy ways: Tobe, as a modern day slave, and Homer as her victim.

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A Rose for Emily

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