What are some gender roles in "A Rose For Emily"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For a while, Miss Emily seems to embody the feminine ideal. She acquiesces to her father, accepting his authority and obeying his instructions; she, in her youth, embodies the silent and submissive female role. However, this begins to change once her father dies. Emily refuses to admit that he has...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

For a while, Miss Emily seems to embody the feminine ideal. She acquiesces to her father, accepting his authority and obeying his instructions; she, in her youth, embodies the silent and submissive female role. However, this begins to change once her father dies. Emily refuses to admit that he has passed, and she will not allow the authorities to come and collect his body. Although in one sense, we could still read this as a (somewhat odd and macabre) sign of her continued devotion to him, it also begins to provide evidence of a shift in Emily's role. She steps quite far out of the submissive female role when she purchases rat poison, lies to the clerk about her reason for buying it, and then uses it to murder her lover, Homer Barron. Rather than risk his leaving her, a move that begins to seem imminent, she becomes manipulative and cunning, working out a way to control him. She must kill Homer in order to keep him, and so she relinquishes all remnants of her former femininity and adopts a more masculine activity, poisoning him in order to prevent her own solitude.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Miss Emily Grierson takes on several roles during the course of the story. As a youth, she is totally dominated by her father, who made it clear that "None of the young men [of Jefferson] were quite good enough for Miss Emily..." She was already well on her way to becoming an old maid by the time her father died, and the townspeople decided that Emily believed as did her father that they "were a little too high for what they really were." Emily never lost her haughty attitude, and she had few friends and virtually no marital prospects until Homer Barron arrived in town. Emily's transition from a prim and proper Southern lady to a "fallen" woman centered around her last-chance love affair with the Yankee bachelor. The people of Jefferson even "felt sorry" for her after Homer scorned her, but they also believed her "crazy," since "insanity ran in the family." Emily soon took charge of the situation (unbeknownst to both townspeople and readers) when she purchased the rat poison and Homer disappeared. Her next role became that of a recluse, rarely seen outside the walls of her home. She was also forced to reluctantly accept her standing as an independent woman, making ends meet by giving china painting lessons to local children after the family money finally ran out. In the end, she became a "duty... a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town...," and after her death it became clear that her neighbors had been correct all along: She was a woman who was "dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil and perverse."

As for the other characters, Mr. Grierson is portrayed as a domineering male father figure whose own believed "noblesse oblige" is called into question by his neighbors. Homer Barron is a man's man, loved by the men he meets--both black and white--but who is dominated by Emily. He admits to being a confirmed bachelor, and he probably never intends to ask for Emily's hand in marriage. Tobe, Emily's black manservant, bridges both the old and new ways of the South. He is a faithful employee who is probably rarely paid or appreciated, a modern day slave who leaves the Grierson house immediately after Emily's death, never to be seen again. With Emily's death, the last remnants of the Old South in Jefferson--noblesse oblige, Southern aristocracy and enslavement of Negroes--also fades away 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team