Women have always fought for equality amidst a predominately male-run society. In the late 1800s and at the turn of the century, women improved their status in society a great deal. They formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 and gained the right to vote with passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. However, the transition from passive to active women in society was not a smooth one; many people, both men and women, did not agree with these changes. In Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, the Gierson home and Emily are symbols of the shift society undertakes, adjusting to the changing power in women from submissive to influential.
The Giersons’ home parallels Emily and what she stands for: old traditions that are deteriorating and unwelcome in a changing country. Like the house, Emily grows up in the past, a time in which women had no rights and were under the complete control of the men in their lives. In the beginning, the house is “white”(75) , symbolizing Emily’s purity and innocence, a result of her sheltered and controlled life. However, the house, and patriarchal ideology it stands for, becomes “an eyesore among eyesores” (75) in the neighborhood, as “the next generation, with it more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen”(75). The house contrasts the newer community, Emily contrasts the younger community, and the old beliefs that the house and Emily represent contrast the more liberal community.
The Giersons’ home represents a shift from old to new by having both past and present qualities. It physically contrasts with the newer community, showing how the old belief of passive women that the house stands for is being pushed out by the new ideals of stronger, more independent women. The house is old-fashioned and even decaying, having a “style of the [eighteen-] seventies”(75) that “encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood”(75). Standing out negatively in the community, the house mirrors the old belief of weak women; the community is disgusted by the home like it is disgusted by the thought of passive females. Later on in the story, there is a smell from the house, which the town quickly destroys by “sprinkl[ing] lime [in the cellar], and in all the outbuildings”(77). The town quickly and secretively does away with the smell of the home like it does with the old viewpoint of women.
Though the Gierson’s home encompasses characteristics of the past, it also hints at the future, showing that it is in the middle of a transformation from past to present. No matter how weak the house seems, it is also “stubborn” (75), with a “big, squarish frame”(75) that demands to be recognized and respected. When Emily dies, the town enters the home, “which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced”(80). The house is strong, and it takes the entire community to force it open. The town and the ideals it stands for force their way into the home, physically taking over the place; the new view, of powerful, self-sufficient women, takes over the last hint of the town’s past. The house still looks old and ancient, yet it comes to represent a new idea and so it has made the shift, along with the community, to welcoming powerful women as a new part of their world.
Emily is a woman that belongs in the past yet inevitably changes with the times, getting caught in the contradictory beliefs of past and present. Emily embodies a woman that the town does not want: old- fashioned and reliant on men. When the townspeople try to collect taxes from Emily, she turns them over to Colonel Sartoris, though he is dead; she cannot defend herself without a man for backup. Because her father controlled her whole life, she cannot hand over the body for three days after his death. When she finally does, Emily had “nothing left”(77) and Уwould have to cling to that which had robbed her”(77). Totally under the rule of her father, she is weak and submissive, even becoming physically sick because the only person in her life has left her. She recovers only when another man, Homer Barron, enters her life to take care of her. To physically get better, Emily has to be under another man’s dominance, and, when he would leave Emily like her father did, Emily keeps him by poisoning him. Even after Homer’s death, she sleeps next to his dead body and leaves an “indentation of [her] head”(81) next to his. Emily can not let go of the old beliefs that are ingrained in her mind, the belief that she needs a man to be complete. All throughout the story, Emily also has Уa doddering Negro man to wait on her”(80). Another man is taking care of Emily until her death, and this servant, even possibly a slave, emphasizes Emily’s conservatism even in a changing society. While Emily’s two female cousins can travel alone and, later on, hold her funeral service without the guidance of men, Emily is dependent on countless men in her life, and dies alone and sad because of this; the last hint of old- fashioned, patriarchal beliefs have no place in the maturing world of Emily’s society.
However, though Emily symbolizes the past, she also symbolizes the future by being strong and independent. Throughout the story, Emily “carried her head high enough” as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity”(78), and would never “have accepted charity”(75). Taking on the whole town, no one can make her pay taxes, go into her home, or put numbers on the house for free postal delivery. Even the druggist illegally orders arsenic for Emily, who Уjust stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye”(78). Emily is able to get what she wants, standing up to the townspeople and aldermen who demanded taxes from her. Emily herself is caught in the middle of this shift in power for women, undertaking an adjustment, from completely under the whim of her father and Homer Barron, to being able to take on the community who, together, has tried to demand her to change.
Faulkner’s use of the Gierson’s home and Emily together symbolizes a critical issue dealt with during the time of the story and during the time in which the story was written. A Rose for Emily comments on how one society dealt with these dramatic changes, and how ultimately America deals with these changes; both, in the end, push out the past and move on to the future, with a more equal society for women. However, there are still reminisces of discrimination against women, like the Gierson house was still standing, a reminder of the past and all the beliefs it stood for.
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