Race, gender and class in Faulkner's Literature

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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 l... ... middle of paper ... ...intimidated the citizens of the town into dutiful submission. Gender plays the role of intermediator; organizing the classes into men and women and assigning their perceived roles. Finally, in a town with edicts proclaiming “that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron” it is not surprising that race also determines importance in Jefferson (Faulkner 308). Sadly, the role of race in Jefferson is to discriminate against minority groups. In this way race determines who will fill the bottom social classes. Class, gender and race organize Jefferson; they provide order and tradition while also defining the behaviors and attitudes of Jefferson’s residents. Works Cited Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Introduction to Literature Potable Tenth Edition. Ed. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York, NY: Norton, 2011. 308-315. Print.
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