William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” deals with a fictional town leaving its old south traditions and embodying post-civil war ideals. The main character Emily Grierson displays an obvious reluctance to change but is still highly respected by the town’s men. This respect derives from a patriarchal regard for Emily’s father and homage to the town’s old south history.
To comprehend the town’s respect of Emily’s father one must first understand what type of man he was. Faulkner first gives insight through his description of the Grierson house in the story’s second paragraph. The narrator describes an elegant mansion “set on what had once been our most select street.” With this quote and the accompanying detail of the house itself one comes to understand that Mr. Grierson was one of the wealthiest men in the town. The narrator further explains that the Grierson house was the only one left among the “august names of the neighborhood.” This quote emphasizes the aristocratic status of the Grierson family.
Mr. Grierson uses his high economic status amongst the town as a platform of power and fear. We discover through the narrator that Mr. Grierson was menacing and admonished any man who approached his daughter Emily. The narrator gives an image of the father as “a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip.” This image conveys a man steadfast on protecting his daughter through any means necessary, regardless of if they were violent in nature. This is strong insight to not only Mr. Grierson’s demand for respect but also the respect he received. The narrator reveals that everyone “remembered all the young men her father had driven away.” One could infer that he is able to command this respect through his strong financial status. The town’s men are forced to accept Mr. Grierson’s overbearing influence on his daughter’s love life because he is so wealthy.
Now that all of Mr. Grierson’s actions have been examined it is critical to see the lasting effect he had on the town after his death. Faulkner creates specific confrontations between the town government and Miss Grierson to illustrate the lasting respect for Mr. Grierson and the town’s adherence to old south traditions. Faulkner begins with Colonel Sartoris’ remitting of Emily’s taxes in 1894. The narrator explains that Sartoris “invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily’s father had loaned money to the town.” Now, one could argue that Mr. Grierson never gave the town a dime, but that point essentially becomes mute because of Mr. Grierson’s lasting image. It is critical here to note the high status of mayor Colonel Sartoris. He is a dignified aristocratic leader that the town looks up to. His position in the town’s hierarchy is critical in understanding how respected Mr. Grierson was. He is held in even higher regard than the mayor.
This idea is enforced as the story of Miss Emily’s taxes plays out in the first section. The next generation of aldermen calls on Miss Grierson to discuss her taxes and is led into the Grierson house parlor where “before the fireplace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father.” Faulkner places the portrait here as a reminder to the men whose house they have entered. This creates a complete attitude change in the men who had sent a tax notice and a formal letter prior to their visit. Their visit is brief and their purpose unfulfilled because Miss Emily insists that Colonel Sartoris remitted her taxes even though there is nothing on the books to show it. Rather than press the issue the men simply leave with little argument. Later in the story it is revealed that Miss Emily’s taxes were again remitted.
The last impactful example of Mr. Grierson’s reverence occurs in section two of the story when a neighbor complains to the mayor, Judge Stevens, of a smell emitting from the Grierson house. The Board of Aldermen meet to address the problem and the youngest member asserts that Miss Emily should be instructed to clean up the house. In response to this Judge Stevens curtly remarks, “’will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”’ This outburst is obviously out of respect for Miss Emily’s father but it could also derive out of fear. This is punctuated in the story’s following sentence when the narrator writes, “the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily’s lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork.” Faulkner gives an image here of men who are scared and embarrassed. They wait until the dead of night to sneak about the house like burglars and sniff about the base of the house like dogs. They know that they are committing a shameful act. This, coupled with the respect from Colonel Sartoris and the resolved taxes, vilifies that the lasting name of the Grierson family is even more revered than the town itself.
Some may argue that not every man within the story adhered to these old southern values. Miss Emily’s sweat heart, Homer Baron, certainly does not respect Mr. Grierson when he is first introduced to the story. Of course there are obvious reasons for his ignorance. He is first and foremost and outsider to the town and a northerner at that. The narrator specifically refers to him as a “Yankee” and it is right to assume this means he knows little of old southern values much less the reverence for Mr. Grierson. This does not mean that Homer Baron remains oblivious throughout the whole story, on the contrary he makes known to the younger men that “he was not a marrying man.” One can infer that from all of Homer’s drinking at the Elk Club he had learned of Mr. Grierson and as such he made known that he did not want to marry Miss Emily. Of course as the story plays out the reader learns that Miss Emily poisons Homer Baron in order to keep him to herself but this is surely after Baron had developed respect for Mr. Grierson.
Regardless of circumstance the respect for Mr. Grierson is evident throughout the story. Whether it is specifically for him or for his daughter Emily there is an obvious adherence to the old southern values. As previously mentioned throughout the essay, there are clear examples of post-civil war concepts or new south ideals trying to be pushed to the forefront by the town. They are always dismissed in situations involving Miss Emily Grierson. With the end of the war came a demand for change in the south but because the Grierson name is strongly tied to the traditions of the past, the respect from the town remains until the last heir has been buried. The first sentence of the story fittingly is about the very last event that happens. The men attend Miss Emily Grierson’s funeral “through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument.” This fallen monument is a double metaphor for Miss Emily and the old southern values that she embodied. With the burying of Miss Emily the town can finally move on. Faulkner surely used the town in “A Rose For Emily” as symbol of the entire south and the Griersons as a symbol for its past.