In "A Rose for Emily," what are some of the feminist elements?
In William Faulkner's strange and haunting short story, "A Rose for Emily," there are several feminist elements.
The first example can be seen when Miss Emily goes out riding with Homer Baron. She is beneath him, socially, according to the story's unnamed narrator. It is not the behavior one would expect of someone of her social standing, and yet Miss Emily cares little for the social conventions of the day, doing what she wants.
At another point in the story, the town elders visit Miss Emily to try to get her to pay her taxes. Colonel Sartoris, a politician long gone from this world, had exempted her from paying into "perpetuity," when her father died. Instead of being cowed or intimidated by these men, and leaders of the community at that, she stands up for herself, repeats the agreement made with the deceased Colonel, and dismisses the men. This would have been highly unusual for a woman of that time.
When Miss Emily's father dies, it would have been appropriate for an unmarried woman to go to live with family, or have a chaperone live with her. Miss Emily's relatives show up and stay for a short while, but soon she has them packing and gone. From this point on, Emily lives alone in her home with only the company of a servant. This also defied the social norms of the time. It would seem that while some people in town might have admired her independence, others would not have known what to make of her.
It is hard to know if Faulkner saw Miss Emily as a feminist figure. He had an eye for the macabre, and it may be that living alone allowed Miss Emily’s character to behave in a way that so shocks the reader at the end of the story.
However, art (and literature is a form of art) takes on a life of its own, meaning different things to different people. It may well seem that Miss Emily provides a feminist element in this story. She certainly turned her back on what was expected from women in the South, especially, during her time. She was a law unto herself.
We learn, through the course of the story, that Emily and her family are quite old fashioned. When her father was alive, he treated her like an object or a prize to be won, and no one was ever "quite good enough." Thus, Miss Emily turned thirty and was still not married, to the delight of the townspeople who seemed to feel that the Griersons were somewhat uppity. Then, her father died.
Her father had treated her like a possession, and so when he died, leaving her all alone, she became confused and desperate. She refused to admit that he had died for days until, finally, "she broke down, and they buried her father quickly." Had her father not treated her like an object, and instead let her make her own choice of partner, she certainly "wouldn't have turned down all of her chances . . . " Emily could have had the opportunity to fall in love and make real, empowered choices instead of being "thought of . . . as [part of] a tableau."
This treatment by her father warped her and taught her that to love is to possess, and so she killed Homer Barron in order to possess him so that he could never leave her. If Emily had been treated as an equal instead of an object, she might not have treated others that she loved as objects. In this sense, then, a lack of gender equality leads to misfortune for everyone.