How are women represented in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ladies of the Old South---

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner masterfully portrays the difference between the Old South [pre-Civil War] and the new South [lacking in gentility].The story of Miss Emily Grierson, told in a fractured time frame, spans seventy-four years, the life time of Emily.  The narration comes through a citizen of the town of Jefferson, who takes part in the story’s events.

The women of the story signify two groups who are concerned about Emily.  The townswomen who follow the actions of Emily closely and directly or indirectly try to fix Emily’s mistakes.  Relatives of Emily embody the other faction. 

When Emily was a girl, women’s lives were controlled first by the class system, then by race, and finally by their men.  Women had very little power over what they did or who they became. In the upper and upper middle class, women were revered, cherished, and dominated.  Such was the life of Emily.

Her father had complete control and care of her. His domination had left Emily with few skills to assist her in survival after he died.  Not concerned with her happiness, the father drove every suitor away from Emily.  After his death, Emily emotionally and physically drew back inside her house and away from the world in which she had no part.  The South changed, but Emily did not. 

Emily’s cousins visit her to help protect her from the Yankee interloper Homer Barron.  Of course, their concern should have been for Homer.  Her kinfolks watched over her until they were sure that Homer would either marry Emily or leave for good.

So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments. At first nothing happened. Then we were sure that they [Homer and Emily] were to be married.

When Emily dies, the cousins return to make the arrangements for the funeral. 

The ladies of the town attempt to help Emily at strategic points in her life.  When her father dies, the women come to assist Emily and help with her grief.  Emily refused their assistance, denying the death of her father.

The women observe the changes in Emily from her weight, her gray hair,  to the room in the upstairs part of her house. Whispering about Emily became a pastime for the ladies. They force the minister to visit Emily to warn her about the gossip and danger concerning Homer Barron.  The minister is not successful. The townswomen consider her to be an oddity, but one that should be respected and cared for.

Typical of women, sometimes curiosity gets the best of them. When Emily dies, the time has come for their interest to be satisfied.

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house...

They have waited for forty years to get inside Emily’s house.  Their reparation for a life time of expectations comes when the door to the upstairs room opens to offer its grizzly occupant.