Essay A Rose for Emily: Antebellum South vs. Modern South
1115 WordsMar 6th, 20025 Pages
A Rose for Emily: Antebellum South vs. Modern South
William Faulkner wrote, "A Rose for Emily." In the gothic, short story he contrasted the lives of the people of a small Southern town during the late 1800's, and he compared their ability and inability to change with the time. The old or "Antebellum South" was represented by the characters Miss Emily, Colonel Sartoris, the Board of Aldermen, and the Negro servant. The new or "Modern South" was expressed through the words of the unnamed narrator, the new Board of Aldermen, Homer Barron, and the townspeople. In the shocking story, "A Rose for Emily," Faulkner used symbolism and a unique narrative perspective to describe Miss Emily's inner struggles to accept time and change
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Homer entered her life by courting her publicly; by not wanting to marry her, he would have robbed her of her dignity and high-standing in the community. The ladies of the town felt that Miss Emily was not setting a good example for the "younger people" and their affair was becoming a "disgrace to the town" (75). The traditions, customs, and prejudices of the South doomed this affair from the beginning. Emily could not let Homer live, but she could not live without him. He was her only love. When she poisoned him with arsenic, she believed he would be hers forever. The symbolism between the past and the present was also shown in the beginning of the story when Faulkner wrote, " only now Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps an eyesore among eyesores." It was ironic that the same description "stubborn and coquettish decay" could be a description for Emily as well (71). As the house fell into decay, so did Miss Emily, "She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water and of that pallid hue." Miss Emily was described as "a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head" (72). Traditionally, in the Old South people wore black while they were grieving the death of a loved one. The cane she used
Before the American Civil War (known as the “antebellum South”), the South’s economy relied on the agricultural output of plantations, large farms owned by wealthy Southern whites who exploited black slave labor to keep operating costs as low as possible. By its very nature, plantation life gave rise to a rigid social hierarchy—one in which wealthy white farmers were treated like aristocrats, middle-class and poor whites like commoners, and blacks like property. Along with this social hierarchy, plantation life also gave rise an aristocratic culture that valued very highly chivalric ideals (those associated with the institution of medieval knighthood) like courage, honor, courtesy, social propriety, female virginity, and a readiness to help the weak. “A Rose for Emily” is set in the South after the Civil War (the “postbellum” South), after slavery had been abolished and plantation life had collapsed. With their society in economic ruins, however, Southerners did not give up on their aristocratic culture but rather clung to it nostalgically, and yearned to return to a past more glorious in memory than it ever was in reality.
This historical situation underlies Faulkner’s depiction of the Southern (and fictional) town of Jefferson, Mississippi in “A Rose for Emily.” The very epitome of the Old South in the short story is Colonel Sartoris, who as mayor passed a racist law forcing black women to wear their aprons in public—an insidious reminder of the old social hierarchy of the South—and who in 1894 excuses Miss Emily from paying taxes to Jefferson on a chivalric impulse. In addition, Miss Emily Grierson’s family is presented as having been once wealthy and still highly respected in their Southern community; they quite likely belonged to the aristocratic class of slaveholders before the Civil War, though their fortune in the postbellum world has since dwindled. Nonetheless, the family is as proud of its aristocratic heritage as Sartoris is, so much so that Emily’s father refuses to let his daughter become romantically involved with anyone of a lower social class. The townspeople of Jefferson not only approve of but seem to protect and uphold such rigid adherence to their old traditions. Even after Miss Emily’s father dies and Miss Emily comes to think of herself as being socially better than her poverty would justify, the townspeople nonetheless tolerate her haughtiness because she is a living monument to their glorified past, just as significant to them in this respect as the Grierson family house itself, or the cemetery where Civil War soldiers are buried.