In 1997, Prof. Donna Reiss (Tidewater CC), founding project leader of Litonline, asked:
|As the world around her changed, Miss Emily did too--but they did not change in concert. What were some of the changes in the community that she did not accept--and what impact did her refusal to accept them have on her?|
Jenny (1997) sees the taxes as a crucial example of Emily's unchanging nature: "Ms. Emily was unwilling to pay her taxes to the town of Jefferson because when Colonel Sartoris was alive he told her that she did not have to pay them. The town sent her letters, but that still did not make her pay. As the new generation of people came into the town the atmosphere changed. This did not make Ms. Emily change. No matter what people said or did to her she stayed the same."
Teresa (1997) notes that Emily and the town both did change: "Miss Emily changed by becoming more reclusive and set in her ways. The town felt and acted as if Miss Emily was a 'a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.' This is seen many times as the town changes. The town fathers refuse to confront her about the smell at her house, preferring instead to put down lime to make the smell go away. Another instance was the pharmacist giving Miss Emily the arsenic even though she did not give him a reason for its use. It seemed to be the general consensus that Miss Emily be looked after and talked about. Even where she lived was an indication of how the world moved on without her. Miss Emily seemed to live her life in slow motion while the world around her was running, therefore, she did not change at the same pace as those around her."
Jeff (1999) sees some normalcy in Emily's reactions: "It wasn't so much that Emily had a fear to change but an unwillingness. We're talking about the South after the Civil War ('The War of Northern Aggression,' as it's known in the South), and there weren't a lot of opportunities available for single women. Her clinging to her farther was normal; he was the only man she had left--even though I do agree her clinging was a little more than common paternal affection. Emily also in my belief had a huge fright of society; she didn't want the town to know she slept with this man and she didn't want him to leave, so she killed him and left him in her bed to decompose. These are the workings of a very deranged person, I would say."
Tim (2001) sees Emily as grotesque: "I agree that we neglect our elderly and needy today much too often, but Miss Emily is not a good example. Faulkner is trying to show her as a grotesque character, clinging to her 'nobility' after she had become an embarrassment. Her father died while she was in her twenties, and instead of actually taking control of her life, she withered it away. She refused to step down from her high-class and suffered tragedy as a result.
"Her tax exemption and her town's willingness to keep her at the top of the social structure also illustrate the South's holding on to such traditions leading to inevitable and horrible events. Miss Emily finally gets a chance to redeem herself by marrying Homer, although she would be disgraced for marrying a Northerner and day-laborer, showing just how far she's fallen. But when Homer does not comply with Miss Emily's only chance at having a respectable life, she can't let go. The respectable life is more important than Homer.
"The message lies in that by refusing to humble herself, she lives a miserable life. The people treated her better than anyone else in the town, but she refused to come 'down' to their level. The woman is utterly despicable, and real life versions of her have been the embarrassment of the South since its founding and still haunt and hold back the South from living by the principles of equality and democracy, keeping it inherently inferior to the North."
Autumn (2002) sees a "paradigm shift" in the story: "As this story is a play on past and present, the past which Emily refused to let go of was a complete contradiction of what was happening as a result of the Civil War. The Chivalric Code became contaminated with sexism and racism. Civil Rights movements for blacks were set in place and they began to have the right to vote, have interracial marriages, attend school with "white" people.
Although these rights were implemented they were very strict at the same time. There were separate buses for African Americans and "anti-black" groups were being established such as the KKK. Emily, as you probably noticed, had an African American servant. She did not dismiss him even after these "rights" had been established. Recall she lived in the time when Colonel Sartoris "fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron" (Harbrace Anthology 1008) Because this story uses past and present as a tool to represent much of Emily's life story, the reader begins to see the changes that are taking place even in town. For example, when they receive a free mail service, she refuses to have them install the numbers on the outside of her house. Basically what is happening is a paradigm shift between the old and new traditions and either refusing or accepting them. This goes for all characters as many represent one tradition or the other, old or new."