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Old South Social Structure in “A Rose for Emily” by W. Faulkner


A Rose for Emily is one of the shortest stories by William Faulkner and it tells the tale of a woman named Miss Emily Grierson living in the southern parts of the country with its depleting social structure. The author narrates his story from the point of view of a neighbor who was not well acquainted with the protagonists, at least in person. Thus the narration is more depiction of social trends regarding the issue of Emily and her life.


Miss Emily’s father was a very powerful personality of the town and very possessive about his daughter as he drove away “all the young men” (Faulkner, 93) and after his death, Miss Emily found herself all alone in the world. She fell for Homer, a road worker from the north, soon after but that relation hardly lasted as it was believed that Homer had deserted her. Later it was found that Miss Emily had actually killed Homer over a quarrel and kept his corpse with her and the author even suggests that she had necrophilia as she slept with Homer’s corpse.


The author mentions that “only a woman could have believed it“. (Faulkner, 91) Under such a condition of the society Miss Emily, being a single woman, found it difficult to handle. She was strict and “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town“. (Faulkner, 90) In short, she was not readily accessible. This made her subject to skepticism for the town dwellers. In accordance with the society of the town she “got to be thirty and was still single” (Faulkner, 92) and that was a serious social offense.

It can be stated that the tortuous legacy bequeathed on women by colonialism vividly tells the story of the institution of the machinery of exploitation by colonialism, and which has been taken up in many instances by the capitalist mode of operation. The activism of women which led to affirmative action and protective legislations in many parts of the world has shown as Pena noted that ‘When workers rebel, they challenge the open-ended exploitation capital seeks to impose in its Endemic “haven of productivity” (much like colonialism). (Pena, 112) The human dimension of work should be put into consideration to avoid a re-enactment of the slave fields of the American South where women were not even accorded the respectability of womanhood but were considered instruments of production, along with their male counterparts.

The unwanted inquiries of the town folks led in various aspects in order to access her or stair her in any manner. The excuse would be outstanding taxes at times and on another occasion, it would be complaints regarding smells from the Grierson’s house. In one word it could be mentioned that the society of the township of the south made her confined in her house as she was hardly welcomed in the society in general. Such was the social structure of the town that when they could not affect her they wanted to pity 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.” (Faulkner, 92) This made Miss Emily a mentally misbalanced person. Mental illness was hereditary to her as her father married a woman, her mother, whose mental fitness was questionable.

It can be stated that failed relationship has damaging effects on the mental well-being of the affected people. But the extent of these negative effects of separation is dependent on marital/relationship happiness to some extent. Various studies have been carried out to find out if people, who are a part of unhappy marriages or relations, make some progress on their mental status subsequent to failure of the relation. The findings of these studies present a depleting mental equilibrium. This too becomes more fatal when society is reluctant to offer any help under such conditions. (Waite, 114)

As a result, slowly but surely Miss Emily withdrew from all the connections from the society of the town and died a lonely death after many years. However, it is evident that her necrophilia is the result of loneliness that was initialized by her father who, according to the local customs, disallowed young men from venturing with his daughter, and then the town society itself confined her completely. Homer Barron was poisoned by her as he wanted to leave her and it was this fear of loneliness that ultimately caused the killing. It can thus well be said that the society of the south caused the downfall of Miss Emily.


Thus, it is evident that there is much in the story that suggests that in this story the author William Faulkner makes it clear that the cause of Miss Emily’s downfall was the social structure of the old south. In general terms, it could be mentioned that the position of women was not seen with respect in these parts and it was believed that any impossible story, like the tax-related story of Miss Emily, could be believed by a woman as they are of low intelligence.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. Ed. Michael Meyer. Bedford: St. Martin’s, 2008. 90 -97.

Pena, Devon. The Terror of the Machine: Technology, Work, Gender and Ecology on the US-Mexico Border. LA: University of Texas Press. 1997.

Waite, Linda J. Marital happiness and marital stability: Consequences for psychological well-being. Haifa: University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 2008.


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