The Theme of Gender Relations in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a short story about the life of South America at the beginning of the 20th century, which illustrates an attitude to women during the period described. The author gives interesting outlook of the social structure of the society of the time described. In this short story Faulkner manages to express the spirit of changes, which influence the lives of his characters. Society, described in this short story, differs from the one we face today. Deprived of basic rights and freedoms, women of those times were physically and emotionally subdued to men. The study of gender relations and importance of social influence of these relations became the main idea of Faulkner’s writing.
Gender relation is one of the main themes of a short story “A Rose for Emily” written by Faulkner. The story is written in a form of third-person narration and, what is notable, there is no one definite narrator. Third person narration and multiple people, who tell the story, is a special device used by the author. It helps him to pass the point of view of town folks to his readers. The readers get not only an opinion of one separate person, but a combined idea of what people think of the town described.
This combination gives the readers an opportunity to see the way citizens perceive Emily. Through the attitude to Emily the attitude to women in general is reflected. Despite people do not have a direct contact with Emily, they have an important influence on all her life. Noble position and expectations of the society do not let Emily get married as her father can not find a worthy partner for his aristocratic daughter. Social opinion destroys Emily’s hope for happiness and makes her life empty and senseless. Later, the pressure of the society does not let Emily confess that Homer has left her and she commits a murder in order to save her reputation and save her face in public. Emily’s relations with her father illustrate male domination in the society of those times. The phrase “Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette with foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip…” gives a good description of the type of relations between Emily and her father (Faulkner, 69). She was nothing but a figure in the background as most women of those times used to be. Faulkner uses different stylistic devices in order to pass his message to the readers. This short story is rich in different symbols. Description of houses contains a lot of symbols, which help the readers to interpret the main character. Settings of the house reflect depressive atmosphere Emily spends her life in. Descriptions of Emily and her house contain symbols of death and devastation. A lot of descriptions throughout the story give the readers hints about terrible tragedy, which will be discovered by the end of the story.
After opening closed room after Emily’s death town folks see there "room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man's toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured" (Faulkner, 72). All these symbols of happy life and bridal are contrasted to the death body lying on the bed.
The symbol or rose has also a very important meaning in the story. The author uses it to create a contrast between terrible reality of the story and Emily’s idealistic dreams. Great meaning of the symbol or rose is underlined by its use in the title. Original bright and optimistic meaning of rose is opposed in the story to the death and destruction. While reading the title of the story the readers start thinking about romantic symbolism of this flower, but it is only first impression. This perception is changed when they read the beginning of the story describing Emily’s funeral and finally disappear by the end of the story. Emily refuses to perceive death around her. She does not want to believe in her own father’s death. She wants her life to be full of roses but gradually comes to the realization that her romantic dreams are not to become true. Despite this realization breaks her heart it also has another important meaning. It becomes a push for inner transformation. Despite she does not want to perceive changes around her and wants to stay in the conservative society she got used to she finds enough courage to contradict social opinion and to start a relationship with Homer Barron.
Born in the aristocratic family, Emily has noble name and great wealth but in reality she possessed nothing, even the right to make decisions in her life. This is a typical situation for South America at the beginning of the last century. Men-dominated society created rigid norms and regulations women had to follow. Flexible for men, these rules put women in strict framework they had to follow during all their lives. Society started fierce oppression to Emily’s attempt to build her relationship with Baron because it was not appropriate for her noble range. Town folks have even asked her cousins to come and interfere with the situation. The murder became a desperate attempt to obtain a usual female happiness.
Rich symbolism used by Faulkner in this short story helps the author to pass his idea to the readers. Emily represents the remains of once aristocratic but now poor families. She is brought up by the ideals of her time and looks for quite happiness and family values. Cultured and sensitive, she has difficulties adapting the changing society, in which aristocracy is left in the past. Men of the society described by Faulkner are described as leaders and protectors. They take decision and decide what women should do. The roles given to women are reduced to taking care about the household and creating the most favorable conditions for men.
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