There are several key issues which arose in the mid-nineteenth century which led to the breakdown of the American Union – and eventually to the Civil War. One of the main underlying issues was the division caused by the opposing feelings about the issue of slavery – however it was the manner in which the Northern politicians forced the eradication of slavery. This division will be explored through Faulkner’s work A Rose for Emily and Long Hot Summer.
The Civil War was about division and after the war had ended, although some major points of reunification abounded in America, there was still a great sentiment of this division, which was felt especially strong in the South, as Glatthaar states “Yet like Southerners, Northern whites had powerful prejudices against blacks…
It was one thing, most Northerners reasoned, to regard the enslavement of the black race as cruel and inhumane; it was another to ask Northerners to regard blacks as their equals or welcome them as neighbors and friends” (11-12). In Faulkner’s work A Rose for Emily, he explores these sentiments through the characters.
Emily is ostracized from the community, all of them assuming she is too proud, too august for her contemporaries, and that she lives (or lived) her current life in the past, stuck to the ideals of her father. This same statement could be a representation of America during this time frame of the Post-Civil War in which the patriarchy of the American government did not allow for certain southern ideals, mores, and traditions to survive the end of the war (Bordewich 12).
The list of characters whom Faulkner chooses to portray in A Rose for Emily still hold onto these traditions, although the story also represents the confusion during this time period. The American South was, after the Civil War a place of forced conglomeration just as is seen in Faulkner’s story in the subtle inclusion of the description of the graveyard where Miss Emily was to be buried, “And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson” (Faulkner) thus leaving the ‘sides’ of the war forced together through death and anonymity.
The Civil War was a battle for rights; for racism to cease, or at least slavery. In the ideals of the south, slavery, unfortunately had become a ‘tradition’ and it is difficult for someone, especially for a culture to change their normality. This ‘change’ that the Civil War brought upon the south is exercised quite stunningly through Faulkner’s character Colonel Sartoris in that he refuses to change his mode of thinking for the purpose of a smooth transition of south values to northern norms (Glatthaar 45), and thus gives the reader an august manner of racism,
Colonel Sartoris, the mayor–he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily’s father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris’ generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it. (Faulkner).
Here is seen the tradition of the south in the fact that Sartoris would not allow ‘Negro’ women to appear in public without an apron, which is a truly racism and sexist law to permit to be enacted. The south however during this time period was a place in which the older generation wanted to hold firm to their beliefs in a type of call for integrity, no matter the ridiculous nature of this integrity.
Miss Emily was the epitome of Southern values in this story; she harkened the town back to the ‘old ways’ in her manner, in her presence and thus whenever another character in the story approached her they were forced to reckon with her set of mores instead of the present situation. This can be clearly seen in the manner in which she dealt with her taxes when the sheriff and the town committee tried to force her to pay her taxes and can especially be seen in the manner in which the town tried to get rid of the smell permeating from her house.
The town did not approach her in a civilized manner because they did not want to tell a lady (a lady) that she stank, “…so they were not surprised when the smell developed. It was another link between the gross, teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons” (Faulkner). It is Emily’s character which is the focus of the story; her clandestine ways pitted against the townspeople as Watkins states,
The contrast between Emily and the townspeople and between her home and its surroundings is carried out by the invasion of her home by the adherents of the new order in the town. Each visit by her antagonists is a movement in the overall plot, a contributing element to the excellent suspense in the story, and a crisis in its own particular division of the story (Watkins 509).
It seems that with the close of the war there were certain sentiments of pity which arose for the south in that they needed aid to rebuild their destroyed towns, and this aid came from the North. Tied into these emotive states of Post-Civil War America was proud, the South was proud and sometimes too proud to accept this aid when necessary; this same sentiment is seen in Miss Emily as well as her father, as Faulkner writes, “When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad.
At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less”. Thus the town wanted vindication of sorts through pity, the ability to pity her made her less of a force just as is the case between the North and South states.