In William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” the details which Faulkner uses to describe the setting helps the reader to understand the values, beliefs and actions taken by characters within the story. The short story takes place in the small town of Jefferson, Mississippi located in the Southern region of the United States. It becomes evident to the reader that the story occurs slightly after the Civil War after reading that Miss Emily was being laid to rest “among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson” (Faulkner, 317). Faulkner uses the physical setting as a parallel to the social change occurring during that time period and Miss Emily Grierson’s unwillingness to change with society.
In today’s society people hold different beliefs and values compared to people that were living during the Civil War era. In the short story, tax collectors of the “next generation, with its more modern ideas” (Faulkner, 317) victimize Miss Emily in the process of going to her house and confronting her about her overdue taxes. In response to this, Miss Emily talked with the mayor of Jefferson, Colonel Sartoris’; Miss Emily states that he had granted her the right to not pay taxes due to the fact that her father, who had died earlier in the story, owned the house for many years prior to the Civil War and had subsequently loaned money to the town in the past (Faulkner, 317). The town believed that Miss Emily’s father loaned money to the town as a means to evade paying taxes; however, the reader knows that this is in fact a lie because Miss Emily’s family would not have accepted this type of charity as a result of being part of higher society. The town pitied Miss Emily after she lost her father and therefore allowed her to continue not paying taxes. All members of today’s society must pay their taxes or face serious consequences; they are not given special treatment based on their social class, rank, or connections.
The town of Jefferson is a fallen legacy; it had changed and no longer was the town in which “no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron” (Faulkner, 317). The street in which Miss Emily lived was “set on what had once been our most select street” but was now becoming encroached with garages and cotton gins. The house itself, although still standing, was becoming dilapidated and no longer was in its prime condition as it once was. “Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps- an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner, 317); although the house was still standing, it no longer fit in with the newer more industrialized buildings being built around it where the other homes have all been demolished. This is similar to Miss Emily’s unwillingness to change and not accept any change.
When Miss Emily goes to the drug store and asks the clerk for poison it is an example of how high in society she actually was. The druggist asks her what kinds she would like and she replies, “the best you have” (Faulkner, 320). The druggist allows Miss Emily to buy the poison even without an explanation of what she is using it for or anything of the sort. I do not believe that the town believes Miss Emily would harm anyone with the arsenic because they hardly knew her and they held her to such high standards.
Miss Emily reacts to the pressures placed upon her by the other people in town. She feels pressured to find a husband, settle down, and have children largely as a result of society’s customs during this time period. Miss Emily meets Homer Barron who is a single Northerner who works in construction. Homer was a man who never wanted to settle down and therefore was not the type of man meant for marrying. The town frowned upon Miss Emily’s relationship with Homer because he was a working class fellow and not good enough for her by most standards. Miss Emily was still trying to maintain the role of a southern woman. The pressures of society caused Miss Emily to use the arsenic as a means to kill her lover.
It is proven that Miss. Emily is unwilling to accept change when her father dies and when people come up to her she tells them that her father is not dead (Faulkner, 319). I feel as though the townspeople held Miss Emily at such a high standards because they looked at her as a symbol of past times and they felt her morals should be stronger. Miss Emily’s actions show that she refuses to accept change, which is symbolic of the South’s inability to move forward from slavery after the Civil War. Faulkner writes that Miss Emily rarely ever leaves her house – I believe that this fact highlights the notion that “many Southerners who lived during the slavery era didn’t know what to do when that whole way of life ended” (Schmoop Editorial Team).