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Gender Criticism in 'A Rose for Emily'

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Inequality headlines the media every day: racism, skin color discrimination, sexual preference, and gender. Women from the past, present, and future have been fighting against inequality. The Feminist Movement developed based on their battle for their right to be equal to males. In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, the theme of gender equality can be seen through the townsfolk’s patriarchal mindsets, Emily’s struggle to survive in this society, and how the lack of equality against women lead to Emily rebelling against the patriarchal society.

On page 305 Faulkner writes, “So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with the insanity in the family she wouldn’t have turned down her chances if they had really materialized”. The townsfolks in Jefferson viewed Emily as an old maid, only because she was no longer young and hadn’t married. This is the first example of the firm patriarchal mindset and what they considered a violation of her gender role. In this society, if one didn’t live up to their gender role, it is considered unnatural and they are treated as outcasts.

Faulkner demonstrates this patriarchal mindset when he write, “Then some ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people”. During the Victorian era, the gender role of a woman included maintaining her purity before marriage. Once married, the husband dominated his wife’s body. The ladies of Jefferson believed that Emily failed to live up to her gender role by consorting with a Northerner named Homer Barron. Because of this, she continues to be an outcast and therefore begins Emily’s struggle to survive in this society.

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A clear example of Emily’s struggle to survive in this society can be seen in the following scene: “The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag” (Kennedy and Gioia). The druggist looking down on her shows his disdain and rejection of Emily. Her determination and refusal to accept his reaction towards her allows her to rise above men and those who dismiss her because of her lifestyle and gender. Although she doesn’t back down and puts on a strong front, she struggled with social interactions which causes her to limit them and further her position as an outcast. “Patriarchy views women unfit for society. For patriarchy, women are considered too dangerous to be included within the civilized world until they subject themselves to discipline and accept its rules unconditionally” (Tsakitopoulou- Summers 41). In a man’s society. Women aren’t seen as civilized until they follow their gender roles. Emily doesn’t fit the stereotypical women in this society, therefore seen as uncivilized. This causes Emily to harden herself and rebel against the norm.

Emily Grierson rebelling against society, is a prime example of feminism. Emily fights to free herself from the constraints and expectations of the patriarchal society by going against what is considered the norm. Fighting against patriarchal oppression for gender equality is the true meaning of feminism. Emily’s new-found freedom and change in both personality and appearance begin shortly after the death of her father. Prior to her father’s death, Emily was considered a “good girl”, conforming to her father dominating her entire life, to the extent that he drove away any potential husbands and eliminated any opportunity that she had of living a normal life under the roles of a patriarchal society. Emily’s “good girl” persona prior to her father’s death is illustrated as the author writes, “Miss Emily a slender figure in the white background” (Kennedy and Gioia). Emily is being objectified via the description of her appearance with the narrator specifying her body type as slender and clothing as white. These two items are an indication that she is living what is a socially acceptable lifestyle at the time. Furthermore, the white clothing is symbolic of innocence and purity, classifying Emily as a good girl. On the other hand, evidence of Emily’s transformation after the death of her father are seen as Faulkner writes, “When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat, and her hair was turning gray… Up to the day of her death at seventy- four, it was still vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man”(Kennedy and Gioia). Patriarchy places great emphasis and vale on women who follow their roles by maintaining a particular appearance, their virtue and marry by a certain age. In contrast, Emily is past marrying age, has gained weight and cut her hair short like a man and, for this reason, is considered less worthy or depreciated in value. Additionally, the author is showing the complete transformation of a once slender, innocent young lady into a strong woman. At the end of Emily’s life, her features closely resembled those of a man, therefore making her a “bad girl”. The feminist theory indicates that both views of being a good or bad girl is a patriarchy objectifying women, in which Emily falls victim of.

Feminist theory in “Rose for Emily” is clear through the display of patriarchal ideologies of the townsfolks, Emily’s struggle to survive this patriarchal society and how her struggle ultimately leads her to rebel against the male dominated society that she lives in. The patriarchal beliefs of the townsfolks include gender roles that they believe Emily has violated. The breaking of these unspoken rules makes Emily an outsider to the residents of Jefferson, who treat her with contempt and force her into reclusion. Emily’s revolt against patriarchy includes a change in her appearance and her interactions with the men of Jefferson, therefore rejecting the scrutiny of objectification. In the end, Emily’s fight against the norm is what gives her freedom. From the Victorian era to the present-day women continue to strive for equality by fighting oppression. Only with the elimination of patriarchal ideologies will the real potential of a woman become evident.

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Gender Criticism in ‘A Rose for Emily’. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from
“Gender Criticism in ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
Gender Criticism in ‘A Rose for Emily’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Feb. 2024].
Gender Criticism in ‘A Rose for Emily’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2024 Feb 27]. Available from:
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