The Subjugation of Women and the Burden of Tradition in “A Rose for Emily”
Feminine Confinements and Societal Pressures
A Rose for Emily” is a story written by William Faulkner, published in a paper in 1930. It shares a story from the perspective of Miss Emily, a daughter of a rich man who lives in Jefferson, a city made up for the purpose of the story located in Mississippi. One day she meets a man and falls in love. His name is Homer Barron, a poor Yankee who came down from the north to work on their streets and doesn’t want to marry her.
It is presumed that because Home does not want to marry her, Miss Emily poisons him with arsenic and keeps his body for the next forty years. Not only does he kill him, but she decides to sleep with the corpse of her lover. While reading this particular piece of literary work, most interpreters pay attention to the unique form of narration and the way William Faulkner plays with time. However, this short story can’t be read as just an experiment with narrative chronology. The author when very deep into the minds of the characters.
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“A Rose for Emily” is a specific social commentary that perfectly presents the roles and demands of women during the early 20th century. The pressure of society and the ways in which it can tear people down. So, I think if we analyze the story further, we can find a very interesting aspect of the story. Looking at the story through a feminist lens, this piece of writing depicts Puritan womanhood as well as society’s perception of the female.
Patriarchal Dominance and the Struggle for Autonomy
I would like to talk about the issue of extreme partisanship, which seems to triumph throughout the story. Faulkner shows the South to be a powerfully traditional area that is centered around a family that has clearly defined social rules. At the beginning of the 20th century, women, mainly in the South, were discriminated against due to the amount of power men were given. It was the men, most often the father, who held the most power and was the most unwilling to change.
Miss Emily lived in her father’s shadow and continued to do so after he died. “We had long thought of them as a tableau. Miss Emily, a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the long back front door.” (Faulkner, 11). This quote shows how the author wants the reader to see Emily in comparison as small and frail.
Also, the horsewhip in the father’s hand can depict a form of strict and threatening, almost like he’s treating his daughter as a possession. With this interpretation is not shocking that he removes her from society and takes them away from potential suitors. “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.” (Faulkner, 11) Her father doesn’t take into consideration her desire to be fulfilled as a woman. Emily refuses to get rid of Mr. Grierson’s body due to the fear of being left alone.
Religious Dogma and Subjugation
Another big aspect is the understanding that the Bible Belt is located in the South, where the story takes place. The Southerners considered religion to be one of the most influential factors in their lives. With that being said, men in the story follow a Biblical conviction that a woman is the cause of all evils in the world. Because of this belief, the women’s situation is made worse by default. Women were prohibited from sticking out or being independent.
Miss Emily can be considered a victim of Puritan womanhood. She is dominated completely by her strict and barring father, and she never experiences independence which in turn trains the rest of her life. Even after her father’s death, she continued to conform to the norms of society. After a while, she caves and starts an affair with a man named Homer Barron, a Yankee. Such behavior is frowned a upon by society. Therefore the shift in her actions could be seen as a protest against tradition. At this point in the short story, Miss Emily takes on a true feminist role and rebels against limitations, gender biases, and social classes.
Society’s Constraining Gaze
The last aspect I want to examine in “A Rose for Emily” is society’s perception of females. Every community is different and is influenced by traditions and principles. Jefferson’s community feels obligated to take care of Emily and control her life through the eyes of the townspeople. Emily is perceived as a weak and dependent woman.
When the man that once cared for her passed, the town council decided not to enforce taxes. The locals offer her accommodations by offering help and sympathy. This depiction of the townspeople taking care of Emily shows the roles of women during the time period. Basically saying that a woman without a man is helpless. Emily is not able to make a living and remain mentally sound while functioning properly in society. That explains why she locked herself away in her house.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner perfectly represents Southern society and its faults. It is captivating and is a marvelous representation of the female position. Women remained in the shadows of men and were perceived by their society as weak. The woman remains in the shadow and does not go beyond her scope of work. All the elements discussed above are perfectly represented in “A Rose For Emily.”
- Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Published in 1930.
- Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym et al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 100-107.
- Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South.” Oxford University Press, 2007.
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- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The New England Magazine, vol. 5, no. 3, 1892, pp. 647-656.
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