When it comes to what is socially acceptable in today’s society, gender, class, and race are very sensitive topics. This is a time of major civil rights, so people are taking these topics more serious than ever before. If we look back to about a hundred years ago, things were not as strict. People were allowed to do things that are not allowed today. “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner was written in the 1930’s. Because of this, this short story uses different language and ideas that were once normal at a different time. Since “A Rose for Emily” was written during a different time period, there are issues surrounding gender, class, and race that would not pass if it was written today.
First, the presence of harsh feminine expectations in this story proves there are issues surrounding gender. All women of this time period were expected to be the angel of the house (BBC). Men definitely were the superior gender. Most women were controlled and had no sense of individuality. This was the case for Emily. Her father controlled every aspect of her life, including who was allowed in her love life. William Faulkner explained this when a student interviewed him:
“When a bewildered student asked him to explain his famous short story ‘A Rose for Emily,’ William Faulkner declared that he was simply writing about a ‘young girl with a young girl’s normal aspirations to find love’ who was ‘repressed’ by her selfish father, with tragic results” (Berne).
This caused Emily to stay single up until her father’s death. At this point, she was thirty years old, which caused the townspeople to feel sorry for her.
“That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her… None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such. 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 back-flung front door” (II).
People thought that women needed husbands to help guide them through life. In fact, a woman without a husband was seen as lost. Not only were women of this time period expected to obey men, but they also had harsh responsibilities. “Women were expected to come home and do everything that needed to be done in the house. They had to make sure that dinner was made for the whole family. They had to make sure that the house was clean. Women had many responsibilities both at home and at work” (Google Sites). Overall, “A Rose for Emily” promotes these sexist expectations that could be seen as offensive to some people today.
Second, the presence of class discrimination in “A Rose for Emily” proves that there are issues surrounding class. In this story, Emily is considered upper-class while mostly everyone else in the town are lower-class. Because of this, she always seemed to get her way. “’A Rose for Emily’ reflects the conflicts between different classes in the old South of America. Emily confronted to all of the classes with great bravery and dignity. She usually raised her head high or stare back the one who said “no” to her” (David Publishing Company). This is apparent in the conversation she had with the druggist:
‘’I want arsenic.’ The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag. ‘Why, of course,’ the druggist said. ‘If that’s what you want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for.’ Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up” (III).
Because of her class, she was able to get poison without an explanation. She was able to get away with something illegal. Little did this druggist know, that arsenic was to kill her lover, Homer Barron. If he had treated her like everyone else, maybe it would have been harder for her to kill him. If we look at today’s society, this discrimination present in “A Rose for Emily” can be offensive to some lower-class people. It promotes the idea of upper-class having more benefits than the lower-class just because of how much money they have.
Third, the presence of racism in “A Rose for Emily” proves there are issues surrounding race. This story takes place in a Southern setting of the 1930’s, which is where the most racism and slaves were present. In this story, there are multiple times where the word “Negro” was used to describe an African American. “The Negro led them into the parlor. It was furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture. When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was cracked” (I). If someone called an African American “Negro” today, it would cause a lot of problems. Also, there is evidence from this story that Emily had an African American house servant:
“And so [Emily] died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her. We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro. He talked to no one, probably not even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse” (IV).
Her servant’s only purpose in life was to serve her. She made it so he never socialized with anyone, causing his voice to sound rusty. “House servants performed tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and driving” (Khan Academy). He practically did everything for her until the day she died. This is no way to treat a human being. Compared to today, this is very offensive to African Americans.
“A Rose for Emily” literary analysis shows the story has issues present involving gender, class, and race that would not be accepted if it was written in today’s society. Today, our civil rights are the strongest they have ever been in history. Back in the 1930’s, America could barely say that people had rights. With female expectations, class discrimination, and racism all being present, it is fair to say that life was much different than it is today. This is why it would cause people to have strong feelings of outrage if “A Rose for Emily” was written in present time.
- Berne, Suzanne. “Taking Turns at Death.” The New York Times, 25 Apr. 1993, www.nytimes.com/1993/04/25/books/taking-turns-at-death.html?searchResultPosition=5.
- “The Campaign for Women’s Suffrage.” BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zy2ycdm/revision/2.
- “Gender Roles of the 1930’s.” Google Sites, sites.google.com/site/genderrolesofthe1930s/.
- “Life for Enslaved Men and Women.” Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/civil-war-era/sectional-tension-1850s/a/life-for-enslaved-men-and-women.
- “A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner.” The University of Virginia, xroads.virginia.edu/~DRBR/wf_rose.html.
- “A Study of Class Discrimination in A Rose for Emily.” David Publishing Company, www.davidpublisher.org/Public/uploads/Contribute/5d9c3cb5076a7.pdf.