Members of Jefferson’s Board of Alderman, whether old and gallant and nostalgic for the Old South like Sartoris or young and business-like such as the newer generation of authorities, all have something in common: they are all male and govern over—and to the exclusion of—women. Faulkner foregrounds this dynamic when he has his narrator recall Sartoris’s law requiring all black women to wear their aprons in public, and dramatizes it in Miss Emily’s relationships with her father and the town authorities themselves. For even in private life, the men in Jefferson exert full control over women’s lives, as Emily’s father does in telling his daughter which suitors she may and may not allow to court her. Indeed, social repression, stiff propriety, and a fetishization of female virginity characterize the Southern culture portrayed in the story.
However, one reason Ms. Emily draws so much attention to herself in town is because she often resists patriarchal authority, as when she flat-out refuses to pay her taxes (here she plays the old generation of patriarchal authority against the newer), or when she forbids the installation of a mailbox and postal numbers on her property. Even courting Homer Bell is a subtle act of rebellion on Miss Emily’s part, against her society’s social conventions and, presumably, the wishes of her dead father.
Given how pre-determined the course of her life has been—not only by the Jefferson patriarchs but also by the Civil War and its aftermath and the code of conduct enforced on her by her society—it is no wonder that Miss Emily attempts to take control of her own life, to live on her terms, to be the master of her fate. Her ultimate gesture to this end, of course, is the murder of Homer and her lifelong marriage, as it were, to his rotting, dust-suffused corpse—instead of letting Homer leave her, Miss Emily asserts absolute control over his life, literally turning him into an object which she can manipulate at will. The madly desperate, horrific nature of this crime speaks to just how oppressed and stifled Miss Emily is, as well as to the huge denial of freedom which her society subjects her to. That her great aunt Wyatt went mad too suggests that Miss Emily’s is not an isolated case. Although it would be misguided to insist on this comparison past a certain point, the subjugation of women in this story quietly reflects the even more virulent subjugation of black Americans at the hands of the white South, as Tobe’s presence in the story quietly reminds us.
Patriarchal Authority and Control ThemeTracker
Patriarchal Authority and Control Quotes in A Rose for Emily
“Dammit, sir,” Judge Stevens said, “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”
She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days… We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
She carried her head high enough—even when we believe that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness.
For a long time we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him.
Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of irony-gray hair.