Compare and contrast "A Rose For Emily" and "Battle Royal."  

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deniseha eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator in “A Rose for Emily” describes how the townspeople thought of Emily and her father as a “tableau”: a pair of figures riding in a buggy, Miss Emily in white, her father holding a whip. If we think of a tableau as an illustration of meaning, a “performance” of sorts, we can see that Emily’s tableau is the performance of gendered roles in the South where women’s bodies and their contained sexuality were highly significant and at the center of culture. To protect the white woman’s body, its sexuality and status, meant everything to those who had lived through and fought the Civil War. But for Emily, protection also meant imprisonment as she could never marry anyone below a certain social status and there were no suitable young men. Marriage and family are the means by which she can maintain her status, but they are unavailable to her. Her sexuality and body decay and she becomes the “picture” of the plight of Southern women, doomed to symbolize the great Southern past even as that greatness decays into a present where the aristocracy has lost its power. Similarly, the narrator of “Battle Royal” finds himself trapped in a tableau of the meaning of black bodies in the changing South. By collecting all the top young black men into one ring and showcasing their sexuality and then forcing them into a competition, the tableau performs the violence done to black male bodies in the free South. Their desire for advancement and belonging becomes a mockery, something to be attained only through their continued humiliation. Like Emily, the young man lives a conundrum, imprisoned by his aspirations.  Like Emily, the young man is given a radical way out of the prison by his grandfather where doing what he is supposed to do is actually a cover for the means of escape. In poisoning and “marrying” the dead Homer Barron, Emily ends the romance with her social inferior, maintaining her aristocratic status but getting the man of her dreams.

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