The Theme of Sex Discrimination in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (Quotes & Thematic Analysis)

William Faulkner, A Rose for Emily, sex discrimination against women theme, text quotes, (thematic) literary analysis
“Kitchen Interior” by Viggo Johansen. A thematic analysis of William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” identifies the theme of sex discrimination against women. (Image: Public Domain)

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” exemplifies the theme of sex discrimination against women. The short story relays the events that transpire in Emily’s life, from the point of view of the narrator, who is a representative of the people of the fictional town of Jefferson. The thematic presentation of sex discrimination is centered on Emily Grierson’s character and experiences. Nonetheless, other characters and their respective experiences also depict this theme. The macabre nature of this literary piece helps develop the negativity throughout the plot of “A Rose for Emily,” and supports the idea that Faulkner emphasizes the undesirability of sex discrimination. The author integrates the theme of death and decay throughout the story to help establish a negative perspective about sex discrimination. Considering the short story’s setting, “A Rose for Emily” also pertains to the theme of sex discrimination against women, based on the condition of the Old South.

In presenting the theme of sex discrimination against women, “A Rose for Emily” relates to other pieces of literature, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” These literary works suggest the sociocultural significance of the theme. Gilman’s work is especially noted for its feminist undertones. In this context, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” provides another view of the sex discrimination theme. The theme is reflected through prejudices and stereotypes about women.

Sex Discrimination in Stereotypes (Quote #1)

Sex discrimination is a theme presented in stereotypes in “A Rose for Emily.” Faulkner’s uses the narrator to illustrate some of these stereotypes. For example, referring to the funeral for Miss Emily, the following quote touches on the contrasting stereotypical perspectives about men and women:

  1. “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house…” (Faulkner).

In Quote #1, Faulkner presents men as mainly interested in the sociopolitical meaning of Emily’s death. In contrast, the women are mainly interested in the house. In this quotation, this difference imposes a thematic frame that stereotypically contrasts men with women. Through this framing, the reader’s is presented with sex discrimination as a theme in “A Rose for Emily.” For example, the discriminatory stereotypes in Quote #1 focus on the ladies’ materialism about the characteristics of the house. These stereotypes of the theme of sex discrimination against women provide ideas about related stereotypes of this theme in “A Rose for Emily.”

Women as Gullible Characters in “A Rose for Emily” (Quote #2)

Faulkner uses gullible female characters to develop the theme of sex discrimination in “A Rose for Emily.” The women of Jefferson are depicted in such a discriminatory way in the Old South context. Such characteristic of the female townspeople is exemplified in the following quote:

  1. “Only a man of Colonel Sartoris’ generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.”

Quote #2 shows the notion that women are gullible. For example, in saying that only a woman could have believed Colonel Sartoris in exempting Emily from taxation, Faulkner points to the town’s discriminatory view that women are gullible and men are not. This characterization contributes to the theme of sex discrimination against women in “A Rose for Emily.” Also, the quote implies that the theme of sex discrimination may be related to generational factors. In saying that “[o]nly a man of Colonel Sartoris’ generation and thought could have invented” the excuse to exempt Emily from taxation, the narrator implies that older generations may have exhibited greater sex discrimination against women. In this quotation, Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” hints on changing levels of sex discrimination as time goes by.

Women’s Resignation to their Housekeeping Roles (Quote #3)

“A Rose for Emily” presents the theme of sex discrimination through ladies’ roles in the household. In the following quote, the narrator tells about how ladies perceive their housekeeping role:

  1. “‘Just as if a man–any man–could keep a kitchen properly,’ the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed.”

William Faulkner uses the narrator’ perspective about women’s housekeeping role to support the theme of sex discrimination against women in “A Rose for Emily.” For example, Quote #3 relays the ladies’ belief that men are incapable of keeping a kitchen properly. This text excerpt implies that women are more suited to housekeeping duties. This stereotyping in “A Rose for Emily” points to the theme of sex discrimination that limits women’s role to keeping the house in order.

Mr. Grierson’s Domination on Emily (Quotes #4 and #5)

Faulkner presents the character of Mr. Grierson as a dominant influence in Emily’s life. This father-daughter relationship makes “A Rose for Emily” a story of excessive paternal control, which supports the theme of sex discrimination. The following quotes show such a familial situation and its lingering effects in Emily’s life:

  1. “We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip . . . .”
  2. “Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman’s life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die.”

Quote #4 shows the town’s perception that Mr. Grierson directs Emily’s life. The “tableau” is a thematic representation of sex discrimination against women in “A Rose for Emily.” For example, when he was alive, Mr. Grierson discriminated against Emily’s free will and capacity to make her own decisions. Also, Quote #5 shows that Mr. Grierson’s discriminatory influence on his daughter extends beyond his death. William Faulkner uses Mr. Grierson’s character to illustrate sex discrimination within the family. Based on these quotes, “A Rose for Emily” includes a focused view of the theme within the context of Emily’s family.

Explanation & Importance of the Theme of Sex Discrimination against Women in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

“A Rose for Emily” explores the theme of sex discrimination against women. William Faulkner illustrates discrimination against Emily within and outside her family. In the cited quotes, the short story provides examples of how the theme influences society. Also, in Quote #5, “A Rose for Emily” illustrates the consequences of such sex discrimination. Sex discrimination is depicted as a negative factor that limits people’s potential development and quality of life.

The theme of sex discrimination against women is important in “A Rose for Emily” because it explains Emily’s personal development toward being a recluse. For example, the cited quotes show that sex discrimination prevents her from finding a romantic partner. Also, the theme is important in linking “A Rose for Emily” to the reader’s societal context. This connection adds meaning to situations of sex discrimination in real life. As in the interpreted quotes, “A Rose for Emily” encourages the reader to examine the theme of sex discrimination in the real world, and understand the negative consequences of the issue.

Works Cited and References

  • Allen, Dennis W. “Horror and Perverse Delight: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Modern Fiction Studies 30.4 (1984): 685-696.
  • Barani, Forough, and Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya. “Binary Opposition, Chronology of Time and Female Identity in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature 3.2 (2014): 155-160.
  • Binder, Aubrey. “Uncovering the Past: The Role of Dust Imagery in A ROSE FOR EMILY.” The Explicator 70.1 (2012): 5-7.
  • Curry, Renee R. “Gender and Authorial Limitation in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Mississippi Quarterly 47.3 (1994): 391.
  • Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” 1930. University of Virginia.
  • Nebeker, Helen E. “Emily’s Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 24.1 (1970): 3-13.
  • Perry, Menakhem. “Literary dynamics: How the order of a text creates its meanings [with an analysis of Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’].” Poetics Today 1.1/2 (1979): 35-361.
  • Romdhani, Mourad. “Female Silence in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and ‘A Rose for Emily’: Crossing the Borders of the Speakable.” International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies (IJHCS)​ ISSN 2356-5926 2.3 (2016): 716-728.
  • Scherting, Jack. “Emily Grierson’s Oedipus Complex: Motif, Motive, and Meaning in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.” Studies in Short Fiction 17.4 (1980): 397.