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“A Rose for Emily” is a short story written by William Faulkner, first published in the “Forum” paper in 1930 . It tells a story of Miss Emily Grierson, a noble old spinster, who lives in Jefferson – fictional city located in the state of Mississippi. One day she falls in love with Homer Barron, a Yankee who in fact does not want to marry her. Therefore, later on Miss Emily kills him and for the next forty years has slept with the corpse of her lover. While interpreting this peculiar work, most of the literary critiques pay attention to the spectacular form of narration and play with the time. However, this story cannot be read merely as an experiment with narrative chronology. William Faulkner “wrote about childhood, families, sex, race, obsession, (…) South and modern world.”(Baym) He went very deeply into his character’s minds reconstructing at the same time an entire southern society. “A Rose for Emily” is a peculiar social commentary which perfectly presents the role and demands of women during the early 20th century, and pressures of the society and ways in which it can wear people down. Therefore, I think we can find very interesting aspects of this story if we look at it from a feminist point of view. As Du Fang (2007) pointed out, this work comments on patriarchal chauvinism, puritan womanhood as well as the society’s perception of the female.
The first aspect I would like to focus on is the issue of patriarchal chauvinism which seems to prevail throughout the story. “The patriarchal chauvinism means that it is the father who enjoys the absolute power in deciding every family affair.” (Du Fang) In “A Rose for Emily” Faulkner presents the South as an area powerfully traditional, family-centred and with a clearly defined social roles. At the beginning of the 20th century women in the South were discriminated as well as docile to men. It was the man, most often, the father who had a dominant power, who was intolerant of any opposition. Miss Emily is a figure who lives in the shadow of her father.
“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 backflung front door.” (Faulkner, 11)
In this description, Mr. Grierson is big and tall, whereas Emily is small and frail. As Du Fang (2007) noted, having a horsewhip in the hand may suggest being harsh, strict and treating the daughter as a possession. Therefore, it is not a surprise when Mr. Grierson withdraws Miss Emily from the outside world and deprives her of potential woman’s happiness. “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.”(Faulkner, 11) The father prevents any young gentlemen from marrying his daughter. He does not take into consideration her needs, innermost feelings as well as a sheer desire of being fulfilled as a woman. What is more, even after the father’s death Emily remains in his shadow. She does not agree on disposing Mr. Grierson’s body as it is the only way of not being left alone.
The second aspect which is worth mentioning, is the issue of womanhood under puritan influence. The southerners regarded the religion as one of the most prevailing and influential factors in their lives. “The South is known as the Bible Belt, the region of the country where the Bible still has a stronghold.” (Hart, 1998) Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that southern men followed the Biblical conviction that a woman is the cause of all evils and problems in the world. Moreover, they implemented this belief so deeply in their lives that women’s situation inconceivably deteriorated. Females were deprived of keeping their own individualities, discriminated and inhibited by men. Any desires concerning sex or everyday life were condemned and treated as whims. Miss Emily can be in a way regarded as a victim of the puritan womanhood, although not entirely. She is dominated by her tyrannical father, she never lives her own life. She controls her desires to not violate the norms and standards imposed on her by the society. However, later on, after her father’s death Miss Emily enters into a love affair with Homer Barron, a Yankee. Such behaviour is inadmissible and sternly condemned in southern society. Due to that, her shift in the conduct may be interpreted as a protest against tradition, conventional set of decent human conduct. At this point Miss Emily does what all feminists do – she rebels against the limitations, gender rules imposed by patriarchal social forces. It does not matter that later on she is left by Homer and her brave acting comes to nothing. What only counts is her defence against limitations and protection of her rights as a woman.
The last angle I want to look at the “A Rose for Emily” would be the society’s perception of female. Every human lives in a certain society and is influenced by its traditions and principles. A society is an “institution” which has a right to judge and sustain the pressure. Thus, people create a strong sense of one’s responsibility for another. In “A Rose for Emily”, Miss Emily gets into this trap. Jefferson’s community feels a great obligation to take care of her and control her actions. Throughout the story, she is perceived by her environment as a weak and dependent woman. When her father dies she is left alone. She does not have a man to care for her, so the town council decides to absolve her tax duties. The people of the town attempt to accommodate her needs by offering their help and sympathy. They also try to be lenient with her eccentricities – dating with a Yankee, buying a poison or keeping corpse of her father. This caretaking of Miss Emily depicts the perception of woman during that period of time. A woman without a man is helpless. She is not able earn her living as well as to remain mentally well and function properly in the society.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner presents perfectly reconstructed panorama of southern society and its faults. This short, but at the same time, captivating story is a marvellous commentary on female position and her interaction with society. A woman is repressed and oppressed by men – be it her father, lover or husband. She is taught and forced to live according to the well-established principles and rules. Disobedience results in condemnation, disrespect as well as in isolation. Therefore, woman remains in the shadow and does not go beyond her scope of work. To add fuel to the fire, a woman is regarded by her society as a weak, dependent and not self-sufficient. All this elements are strongly indicated in “A Rose for Emily”. Thanks to such intricate and multidimensional work we can interpret it on many levels and every time come up with different conclusions.
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