Summary and Analysis: "A Rose for Emily" Section I


The story's opening lines announce the funeral of Miss Emily, to be held in her home — not in a church — and the reasons for the entire town's attending-the men out of respect for a Southern lady, the women to snoop inside her house. Her death symbolizes the passing of a genteel way of life, which is replaced by a new generation's crass way of doing things. The narrator's description of the Grierson house reinforces the disparity between the past and the present: Once a place of splendor, now modern encroachments — gas pumps and cotton wagons — obliterate most of the neighborhood and leave untouched only Miss Emily's house, with its "stubborn and coquettish decay."

This clash between the past and the present is evidenced by the different approaches that each generation takes concerning Miss Emily's taxes. In the past, Colonel Sartoris had remitted them for her, believing it uncivilized to remind a Southern woman to pay taxes, which Miss Emily does not do after her father dies. But the next generation, with its more modern ideas, holds her responsible for them. Miss Emily, however, returns the tax notice that the new aldermen send to her; when the young men call upon her, she vanquishes them, saying, "I have no taxes in Jefferson" and "See Colonel Sartoris," who has been dead for at least ten years.

One of the most striking contrasts presented in this first section entails the narrator's portrayal of Miss Emily's physical appearance and her house. Descriptive phrases include terms that add to the gothic quality of the story: She is dressed in black and leans on a cane; her "skeleton" is small; and she looks "bloated," with a "pallid hue." But Faulkner doesn't say outright that she looks much like a dead person, for it is only in retrospect that we realize that the dead-looking Miss Emily has been sleeping with the very dead Homer Barron.

Miss Emily's decaying appearance matches not only the rotting exterior of the house, but the interior as well. For example, the crayon, pastel, picture mentioned prior to the narrator's description of Miss Emily is supported by a "tarnished" stand, and Miss Emily supports herself by leaning on the "tarnished" handle of her cane. Also note that the picture is a colored chalk portrait of her father, no doubt drawn by her when she was a child. Miss Emily has some artistic talent: She teaches china painting, which is highly detailed and usually done in soft colors. But if she painted her father's portrait using the same techniques she uses to paint china, then the portrait would not be an accurate representation of the fiercely authoritarian man who was Mr. Grierson. It would be washed out, pale as death, a shadow of his real self.