A Rose for Emily

by: William Faulkner

Important Quotations Explained

1. Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town . . .

This quotation appears near the beginning of the story, in section I, when the narrator describes Emily’s funeral and history in the town. The complex figure of Emily Grierson casts a long shadow in the town of Jefferson. The members of the community assume a proprietary relationship to her, extolling the image of a grand lady whose family history and reputation warranted great respect. At the same time, the townspeople criticize her unconventional life and relationship with Homer Barron. Emily is an object of fascination. Many people feel compelled to protect her, whereas others feel free to monitor her every move, hovering at the edges of her life. Emily is the last representative of a once great Jefferson family, and the townspeople feel that they have inherited this daughter of a faded empire of wealth and prestige, for better or worse.

The order of Faulkner’s words in this quotation is significant. Although Emily once represented a great southern tradition centering on the landed gentry with their vast holdings and considerable resources, Emily’s legacy has devolved, making her more a duty and an obligation than a romanticized vestige of a dying order. The town leaders conveniently overlook the fact that in her straightened circumstances and solitary life, Emily can no longer meet her tax obligations with the town. Emily emerges as not only a financial burden to the town but a figure of outrage because she unsettles the community’s strict social codes.