To establish the framework for the overall mood of decay, Faulkner deeply engrains it into the setting. First, he uses the time period of Reconstruction, during which the South was emotionally devastated from the Civil War. We can see this in the beginning of the story when the narrator describes the cemetery where Miss Grierson now resides. He explains, “And now Miss Emily had gone to join… the… graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson” (I). Here the cemetery stands as a monument to a past defeat and the death that came with it. Not only does the graveyard represent a place of past loss; it is a place of continuing decay that is welcoming its newest member, Miss Emily Grierson. Faulkner also expresses the symbol of decay that Emily represents shortly after he describes the funeral. He discusses what Emily means to the town, saying, “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…” (I). This shows that Miss Emily was a burden still clinging to the ideals of the dying South. She was a “duty,” just as her ancestors had been. Her death emancipated the town from its old way of life.
Another powerful tool Faulkner uses to communicate his theme of southern decay is the actions of the characters, specifically Miss Emily. In the middle of the story, Faulkner describes her current state, “SHE WAS SICK for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like… tragic and serene” (III). The word ‘sick’ clearly carries a connotation of slow decline, which directly conveys the mood. The act of her cutting her hair shows how she is dispelling an older tradition, which earns her a undesirable description from Faulkner. Later, when Homer Barron will not marry her, she decides to purchase some poison from the druggist to kill him. This wrongdoing indicates her state, dejected and unstable of mind. The poison symbolizes a tool through which death and illness are inflicted. Her actions with the poison also show how in the old South, wealthy people could murder others (generally of lower status) and not answer for their crimes. Miss Emily’s offence only adds further to