Requiem for an Aristocrat
“It’s lonely at the top,” a cliche that Faulkner reaffirms in his classical short story, “A Rose for Emily.” In this southern tale, a social class structure separated the “high and mighty Griersons” from the rest of the town. After the Civil War, the southern upper class society was dwindling with the northern industrialists rising in national influence. Emily Grierson was the product of an overprotective single father raising a high society child. During this era the southern high society type was considered a dying breed. Emily’s father instilled values and morals that only an arrogant aristocrat could set in a child. Emily’s inability to involve herself in social settings, her blatant disregard of the law, and her radical approach to intimate relationships all stem from her father’s upbringing.
The town was filled with people Emily had no desire to interact with. She kept herself locked inside her house and sent Tobe, her servant, to take care of mostly all obligations that required social interactions. She spent the greater part of her life inside this fortress of solitude she considered home. During Emily’s years as a young lady, she was led to believe none of the young men deserved her. The young men did not measure up to her father’s expectations so he dismissed them. Even at thirty years of age, Emily remained single because her father would limit her social interaction. So it was common for the townspeople to refrain from associating with such distinguished people. The entire town attended Emily Grierson’s funeral without knowing her beyond her name. This type o f upbringing left Emily isolated.
Emily held an “above-the-law” attitude that was common amongst aristocrats in the southern states at that time. Once Emily’s father died, the mayor felt obligated to allow Emily to refrain from paying taxes. When Emily visited her druggist for arsenic, he allowed her to purchase the poison without having to give reason for its use even though the law states that you must. Emily even disregarded the unwritten laws of high society. It was unheard of that a person of her stature would date a Yankee laborer. She went against even the most fundamental of social laws and gave a laborer, by the name of Homer Barron, an opportunity to court her. This shocked the entire town and “reaffirmed her imperviousness” (429).
Emily was unable to produce a healthy relationship with a person because her father kept her single to her thirties, making her feel as though no man deserved her hand. Emily only had her father as a social partner to communicate with, so when he died she was alone. She decided to find a mate to replace the void left after his death. Homer Barron turned up at this time and represented the Yankee north through and through. He would disregard southern etiquette and would shout obscenities at the laborers who worked directly under him. This rebellious behavior led the young boys to follow him around. When he was not working, he drank and had “fun with the young men.” Homer Barron was constantly surrounded by a laughing crowd when he was in public. This gave him a popular status, which got Emily intrigued enough to develop a relationship with him. Once Emily found out Homer wanted to remain a bachelor and he no intentions of settling down with her, she expressed her dissatisfaction by poisoning him. Her desire to have him as a mate was greater than his life. She continued their relationship after she killed Homer by keeping his corpse and lying alongside it.
Emily’s superiority led her to act irrationally and cross the boundaries of sanity. From what she learned from her father from his upbringing, she was able to conclude that her actions were justified. She attributed her isolation to the townspeople’s inferiority. She perceived the law as beneath her and for the average townspeople instead. Even murder was not a problem for her because she saw Homer Barron as property, the same way southerners saw Negroes at that time. False values and morals Emily received from the single influence in her life led her to commit otherwise inhumane acts and not tell the difference between right and wrong. All she was ever taught by her father was how to be lonely at the top.