Standing Alone Together: an Analysis of Fear and Independence in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Louise Erdrich’s “Fleur”
What is it to be ostracised? “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “Fleur” by Louise Erdrich, are tales that encompass the idea of social exclusion. The characters in these stories sit upon a precipice of social isolation, destitute to be ostracised by their communities. Fleur and Emily both challenged societal ideals invoking fear within their compatriots and were consequentially ostracised and treated with aggression when perceived as a threat. Both women retaliated against their stereotypical confinements based on gender, age, race, and class. Fleur and Emily defied the traditional concepts of socially accepted gendered behaviours, and even dared defy gender normativity. Fleur was ill perceived. She displayed raw masculinity throughout the entirety of her story. She was first perceived as masculine through the clothes she wore. She was described as being “dressed like a man” (Erdrich 803).
This concept of her unfiltered masculinity was again represented by her having a man like strength (Erdrich 804) when she worked at the butcher’s shop. This uncompromised masculinity flared once more in her ability to play cards. She was thought to be abnormal because a co-worker named Lily could not believe, “that a woman could be smart enough to play cards” (Erdrich 806). These displays of masculine traits were not accepted and were even feared by the relative community. Fleur was a strong, uncompromised woman and therefore uncomprehensive and threatening. Her skill at cards, while once seen as impressive, quickly turned into a suspicious trait (Erdrich 806). These traditionally masculine traits forced Fleur from the gendered role of dainty and meek, which resulted in her inability to be traditional, controlled and defined. Emily was seen in the same regards as defying her perceived gendered behaviour. Emily openly fought men and disregarded their attempted superiority (Faulkner 1).
When gentlemen went to Emily to collect her taxes, she openly disregarded them and asked them to leave (Faulkner 1). She also defied the gender normal ideals on the presentation of a woman’s appearance because she cut her hair off (Faulkner 1). Emily further defiedher gender expectations through her relations with the other women in her community. Within this era, it was perceived that women were supposed to be polite and follow certain cultural behaviours (Faulkner 3). Emily defied this idea, and even went as far as to be individualistic and ignore the ideals of polite femininity (Faulkner 3). Fleur and Emily were bold when they chose to step outside the traditional gendered roles. These actions bonded them together in defying societal expectations but added to their ostracization from their respective communities and ultimately aided in the societies’ fear and abandonment of these women. As well as gender roles, class and race formed another point of contention for Fleur and Emily. These two components within society dictated how their relationships and actions were supposed to be performed. Fleur was a young Indigenous woman, and even within her society, was clearly a lower ranked individual. Within her own community she was cast down to the association with animals instead of people, being describe as a bear (Erdrich 803), or having “grinned the white wolf grin” (Erdrich 805).
When Fleur left her town to seek refuge elsewhere, she was still classed as a lowly Indigenous female. Yet even with this detrimental classing system, Fleur was fiercely independent. Fleur chose to ignore the idea that she owed people anything. She ignored the words of the elders and lived her life according to her own ideas (Erdrich 803). Fleur was not phased by the advancements of gentlemen who where viewed superior to her in the era (Erdrich 805-808). Emily, much like Fleur, defied her class label. Emily was supposed to be demure, but often opposed that concept. She was described as strong willed and in defiance of her class identity. It was said that, “she vanquished them” (Faulkner 2), when discussing men. Further her interaction with the druggist demonstrated her incapacity to fulfill the suspected role. When she went to collect poison, she stared down and intimidated the male druggist into giving her what she wanted without the traditional protocol (Faulkner 4-5).
Emily also refuted the idea of staying within her class for relationships, she instead defied it and was involved with a man beneath her class(Faulkner 5). Emily and Fleur were defiant in nature. They would act outside the realms of social propriety, class, and of course gender, ultimately posing them as threat to the community. The community within both, “Fleur” and “A Rose for Emily”, had intensive beliefs about women. The communities did not accept the women, predominately because of their intensive rejection of societal expectations. Fleur broke the predetermined and undiscussed rules of the community by dressing as man (Erdrich 803), acting animalistic (Erdrich 803-806), and defying the rules of class (Erdrich 803-808). She did not allow the social barricades to control her actions, she instead was freed. This forced her into being viewed as evil and therefore a threat. The upmost desire to extinguish this threat can be seen in the violent act of letting her drown (Erdrich 802). It was stated that, “the next time she fell in the lake Fleur Pillager was twenty years old and no one touched her” (Erdrich 802). The town did not accept Fleur for who she was. In fact, she was so despised and feared that people would rather let her drown or try to run her out of town (Erdrich 803). Fleur again was feared by the gentlemen that she worked with (Erdrich 805-810). They did not understand her abilities or attitude, and this was shown through the medium of cards (Erdrich 805-810).
In retaliation for this she was punished through rape (Erdrich 809). Emily was seen less of a threat solely because of age. She was from a generation that was protected and therefore she was a burden (Faulkner 1). Her punishment for defying rules was less violent. People disregarded her, gossiped and ultimately isolated her (Faulkner 1-7). She was isolated so badly that she kept a body in her house for years and no one knew until she died (Faulkner 7). The women were punished and feared because they were in defiance of the different social rules. To defy the socially constructed rules is to challenge the beliefs of one’s compatriots. Fleur and Emily both challenged the constructs and functions in their own realms. This ultimately led their communities to fear and punish them for their social defiance.
While both women were punished with ostracization and isolation, Fleur was also punished in drastic and violent ways. These women sharedcommonalities in bravery. To be strong and to defy unjust rules, is to evoke fear from their societies that have lost all control and therefore resolve to violent actions. Emily and Fleur were impressively strong women that demonstrated the pain and suffering that accompanied a defiance in the rules; and yet both women remained outcasts as opposed to reforming their behaviours and mold to societal expectations. Fleur and Emily, while their stories ended differently, and their punishments varied, proved undeniably that to be strong and to be feared is still a choice over diminishing their individualism.
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