Emily is the daughter of a rich aristocratic man who was quite influential in the community of Jefferson, so it was expected that the community respect his daughter. Many allowances were made for Emily’s bizarre behavior because of Mr. Grierson’s standing in the community. For example, the family did not pay taxes because of the favors Mr. Grierson had done for the town. After her father’s death, “she carried her head high enough— even when we believed that she was fallen” (Faulkner, 1930). She exemplifies dignity even when she faces adversity and tragedy because to hold one’s head high, to confront disaster with dignity, to rise above the common masses, were the attitudes of the traditional Southern aristocracy. When the obligations of modernity undermined the notions of aristocracy, she was quick to hold her ground in disregarding the new rules the Northerners tried to impose upon her. Emily represented “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation to the town” (Faulkner, 1930). Even after the discovery that she had kept the bodies of her victims in the house did not diminish the townspeople’s feelings of obligation, and so they attended her funeral and buried her among the “ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate Soldiers” (Faulkner, 1930). She was buried with the reminders of the past. The fact that she holds so much dictation over the town expresses the South’s fear of letting go of the old ways. Some people are holding back the possibility of the whole society ever moving forward because they are clinging on to pre-Civil War ideas. When Emily is thirty years old, she falls in love with a man from the north named Homer. Allegorically, Homer is the North, so her love for him is for the aspects of the North she is endeared to. But he is a homosexual, which is metaphoric. Southerners wanted to be reunited with the North, but only to the aspects that appealed to the South’s sensibilities. Homer’s homosexuality is the aspect that southerners did not approve of. So she killed him, in order to keep the parts that she wanted, but bury the part of the North she hates.
After Emily’s death, the townspeople find Homer’s deceased body in her house in a room upstairs. Miss Emily’s great losses caused her to distance herself from reality and she was seen as an individual who had sunk into deep subconscious mental distress. She locked herself away from the rest of the world and refused to make friends. No one called upon her and she did not attempt to change her lifestyle. Eventually she sank deeper and deeper into a world of insanity, leading her to kill a man who was not destined to die yet and so he becomes the metaphorical rose mentioned in the title, but never in the story. The rosebush that sprouts the flowers is the North, and Homer is a rose that belongs to it. Emily selfishly picked a rose from the bush. Homer had spread his petals by coming to the South, but when he arrived he was not yet in full bloom. Having been plucked too early, Homer began to die. He was away from home, displaced, and powerless to deny the mentally ill Emily. She kept Homer’s dead body in her home, to preserve the aspects of him she loved.
William Faulkner ingeniously conveyed his message through use of literary devices. If the reader chooses to look at the story literally, he or she misses out on the underlying themes: nostalgia of the time before the Civil War, and southerners’ antipathy, or reluctance to change. Wanting social change, he analyzed and critiqued the South, exposing the ailments of society. In a nation that is supposed to be modern, the South remains dead set on keeping the old regimen. Concepts such as homosexuality are more easily accepted in the North, showing that people keep open minds there. As a symbol of the South, Emily bespeaks the region’s lack of progression with the murder of Homer. She killed him because she could not bring herself to accept his preference of men, proving that their mindset is in tune with the old values. Literally, Emily refuses to pay taxes, have an address put on her house, or sidewalk to be constructed in front of her house, but these together have a deeper meaning. Emily is allowing the determent of progression by denying modernization. If pattern follows, the South will always be behind.