What are some examples of Feminist Criticism in "A Rose for Emily" with evidence from the text to support them?

An examination of Emily Grierson's role as a woman in the context of the traditional, patriarchal South is a critical component of a feminist criticism of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." Emily's status in the community is largely defined by her relation to her father, whom the town respects. Without a father or husband in her life, Emily becomes physically isolated from the community. The honor she maintains is rooted in her family name and her sense of propriety.

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In the Old South, women were thought to be like angels, first virginal and then maternal—innocent, self-effacing, and hospitable. They were set apart, revered, and put on pedestals, but what can one do when expected to uphold such impossibly high standards?

Miss Emily shows us that the answer to this is not much. The narrator tells us that she "had been a tradition, a duty, and a care \" to the town. When people complain about the terrible smell coming from her house, Judge Stevens asks them, "Will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?" When the men come to sprinkle lime in her yard, she is described as looking as "motionless as ... an idol" in her upper window.

Miss Emily's father also drove away all the young men who came to court her in her youth, as none of them "were quite good enough" for her in his view. She is not thought of as a person with feelings, hopes, disappointments and, most of all, fears: she is a tradition and a duty. Men can make decisions and mistakes, and men can be people in the fullest sense of the word. Miss Emily is not allowed such freedom because she is a woman.

The narrator may think people began to see her as more human because she is left with no money, but it is clear that she somehow retains the honor—and the restrictions—of being a lady despite her reduced circumstances.

Miss Emily, had she been allowed to be a person rather than being forced into all of these other roles, may never have killed Homer Barron. She might never have been taught to be so proud, she might never have come to fear abandonment, and she might have been more well-adjusted as a human being if she'd ever been treated like one. Instead, as a woman of her time—growing more and more out of place in a new time—she clung to what she knew, and it made her miserable—so miserable that she kept a corpse so as not to be alone. The implication is that society drives women to act in irrational ways in order to gain some measure of freedom and then calls them insane for doing so—the narrator even says that there is "insanity in [her] family."

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Feminist criticism is evident in Emily's character in this short story by Faulkner. First of all, Emily is raised in the South in a patriarchal society. However, she overcame the constraints of this male-driven world in various ways.

First of all, she goes up against the Board of Aldermen concerning her taxes when a deputation arrives at her house: "'I have no taxes in Jefferson. Tobe! . . . Show these gentlemen out'" (3). She sends the men packing, just as she has for years. This occurs in a town where women are considered homemakers and ladies unfit to deal with business matters, much less throw the city authorities out of her house.

Secondly, Emily takes up with Homer Barron, "a Yankee" and perhaps, even worse, "a day laborer" (5). Yet, she is impervious to the town's criticism and continues to see him even as the town gossips about her. As the relationship appears to subside, the townspeople believe she is a "fallen woman" (5) but she carries on as if nothing has happened. This example goes against the traditions of a Southern lady's behavior.

Lastly, her strength as a woman is illustrated when she purchases the arsenic to murder Barron when it is clear the relationship is over. And, just like a rat, Emily poisons him. However, ironically, even though she is seen as a figure of feminism throughout the story, her weakness is revealed at the end, after her death, when the room that hasn't been opened in years reveals a "faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-grey hair" (8). Although she vanquishes men throughout the story, at the close, Emily's weakness is revealed. She had been sleeping next to Barron's remains for many years and, indeed, did need a man.



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In Faulkner's Gothic masterpiece, there are also elements of feminist criticism with respect to Emily's character and the narrator as feminine.

Emily's character

Certainly Emily lives under the patriarchy of her father as she becomes "a duty... a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town." Symbolically her father dominates over her as she stands in front of his portrait:

On a tarnished gilt easel before the fireplaces stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily's father. 

After her father's death, still so attached has she become to her father, Emily refuses to bury her father, standing in a black dress with his

...thin gold chain descending to her waist...the invisible watch ticking at the end of the gold chain.

Because of this overbearing patriarchy, time has passed Emily by and she becomes alienated from the townspeople and remains reclusive for years as she "clings to that which had robbed her, as people will" until she is seen with a Northerner, Homer Barron. 

Nevertheless, Emily yet perceives herself as aristocratic, as seen in Section III when she dismisses the druggist's questions about her purchase of arsenic.


In his essay "A Rose for Emily: Another View of Faulkner’s Narrator in 'A Rose for Emily,'" Michael Burdock contends that the narrator of Faulkner's story is female. For, she complains that when Homer starts to be seen with Emily,

‘‘The men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister … to call upon her.’’

It is also two female cousins from Alabama who come to speak with Emily about her conduct with a Northern laborer. Clearly, the women, narrator and relatives, are solicitous of Emily while the men remain detached from her. Even after her death, the old soliers in their Confederate uniforms rearrange Emily's life to fit them into the time of dancing with them.

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