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Race, Gender And Class In Faulkner's Literature

869 words - 3 pages

William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily depicts the need for a hierarchy by which to rank and organize individuals by merit of their importance. Class, gender and race each play a vital role in determining the interactions of Jefferson’s residents. Notably, these issues affect how Emily Grierson, Homer Barron, and Emily’s Negro servant Tobe are treated by the townspeople, as well as their behavior. Together race, gender and class portray and define the characters for who they are and act to elucidate their positions in society. The hierarchy in Jefferson dictates that class supersedes gender, which in turn, supersedes race.

At the center of Faulkner’s story is Emily Grierson a proper, old-fashioned monument to the past. However, despite her shortcomings and gender, Emily exists as an impervious wall to the town’s pleas for her integration. Her tenacity and independence, uncharacteristic for a woman of the period, served to gain her remittance of her taxes after her father’s death. This is also seen when Emily succeeds in buying arsenic, a strong poison reserved for killing rats, without providing a valid reason to the druggist. Emily’s sense of self-importance, rooted in her high social standing, provides a foundation for her antisocial behavior. These characteristics lead the townsmen to “slunk about [her] house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings” sprinkling lime to eliminate the strong odor emanating from her property (Faulkner 310). One would think that such a measure is quite extreme. However, Emily’s standing in Jefferson afforded her special privileges, among these, the freedom to act how she wished without consequence. The acceptance of Emily’s unusual behaviors leads to a single conclusion: the actions of Emily Grierson were accepted because of her class in society. As Emily was considered an aristocrat of sorts in the town, her actions, inappropriate by any other woman, continued without question. In Jefferson, class superseded the stereotypes against a gender, and to an extent even law and logic.

With rumors of a romantic relationship between Homer and Emily, the townspeople’s first reaction was to reject the notion as folly. The women of the town speculate that a “Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer” while the town elders believed that Emily would be unable to forget the “noblesse oblige”: the obligations of the higher class (Faulkner 311). In the eyes of the town, it would be improper for a woman of such high class to intermingle with a man of lower class. This, along with his affiliation with the Yankees, results in the town turning against Homer, despite his seemingly agreeable personality. Homer and Emily’s...

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