How does this story handle the linked themes of female oppression and empowerment?

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In her early life, Emily seems to have lived under the mantle of female oppression that existed prior to the Civil War, a sort of antebellum concept of what it means to be a Southern belle, despite the fact that this era had passed. The way in which the townspeople...

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In her early life, Emily seems to have lived under the mantle of female oppression that existed prior to the Civil War, a sort of antebellum concept of what it means to be a Southern belle, despite the fact that this era had passed. The way in which the townspeople thought of her family shows this. The narrator says,

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.

Emily's existence is legitimized by her father's, but, apparently, during his life, "None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily," and she found herself single and thirty, even the subject of some pity in town, especially when word got out that she had no money. She was so disempowered, so oppressed by her experiences to date, that she could not accept the fact of her father's death and denied it for several days.

However, Emily later becomes empowered, in a way, as a result of her fear of being abandoned again. She begins a relationship with Homer Barron—a Yankee, a "'day laborer'" of whom her father would have greatly disapproved—despite Barron's public insistence that "he was not a marrying man." Evidently driven by her fear of being abandoned again, Emily poisons him. Rather than accept a man's decision for or about her, she is empowered to make her own decision; it certainly isn't a healthy or legal decision, but it does show the change in Miss Emily.

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In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Miss Emily represents the Old South: its chevalier culture in which women were to remain pure, be coy and play the role of belle debutantes.  Women were defined men: first by their fathers, and then by the courtiers and husbands.

Emily is expected to marry young, but when she doesn't she begins to lose social status.  And when her father dies, she is lost.  She loses the man who defined her without having either a courtier or husband.  Even when he dies, she doesn't want to give up his dead body, such is her morbid attachment to men.

Homer Baron arrives in town, a Yankee and openly homosexual.  She marries him out of spite, knowing she will kill him.  She sleeps with the enemy as revenge against him and against the ladies have called her old maid.  She had been so paranoid about having another man leave her, that she poisons him in bed and sleeps with his dead corpse so as to never go without having a man again.

It's the perfect marriage: no one will ever both her again.  All the rumors and gossip stop.  The marriage freezes time: no one exits or enters the house again (except for Tobe).

Symbolically, the Old South sleeps with the New North in what become the new post-Civil War South.   They are morbid and gothic bedfellows in this forever illegitimate society.

 

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