Society has placed great emphasize on the roles that people are supposed to play. The standards in which we evaluate people have changed greatly over time. Yet, history shows us that the way a person physically looks or the occupation that they hold determined how society viewed them. An example of this is how African Americans were viewed as unequal during slavery. In the stories, “A Rose for Emily” and “Marriage is a Private Affair” we see two people who must live up to their standards set forth by the society, which surrounds them. We see how playing a role can easily become a depressing and lonely act.In the short story, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner we see how the power and prestige of one can lead to the loneliness and sadness of another. The role in society that Emily must play shadows the success and honor of her father, Colonel Sartoris. As we see in the beginning, Emily is buried in the graveyard permanently visited by the honored Union and Confederate soldiers. This one description of her grave explains how although she had never fought in a war or achieved some honorable task, her path in society was already engraved. Emily was already placed as a woman of prestige, honor, and praise. Too many people living a life under those circumstances seem to live day by day with excitement, ease, and above all happiness. Emily seems to have everything but in reality she has nothing. After her father’s death, Emily had no one and was alone. She was not walking in the shadow of her noble father and her life became meaningless. Trying to latch on to another man, Homer, Emily again finds herself alone only to patronize her solemn life that lays ahead. When dealing with the council that came for the tax money we see Emily become defensive and ill mannered to the men. Emily does not know how to communicate with people because as a young child she did not lead a life in society that allowed her to make friends. In the story the narrator explains, “After her father’s death she went out very little, after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all” Faulkner 668. In Chinua Achebe’s story, “Marriage Is a Private Affair” one of the characters exemplifies the struggle one faces when trying to find their identity and culture. Okeke a member of the Ibos culture found himself caught in the middle of trying to cope with his society and son. It is ironic that Okeke’s son went against the norm of the culture, by marrying outside the excepted realm, and now as a consequence, loses his father’s relationship to society. Okeke has to be honored by his neighbors, acquaintances, and friends. To have a son that does not confine himself to the culture implies that you as a father have failed. Okeke decides to, in a sense disown his son and family to uphold his respect by society. In a letter wrote to his son, Okeke says, “It amazes me that you could be so unfeeling as to send me your wedding picture but on further thought I decided just to cut off your wife How I wish that I had nothing to do with you either”(Achebe 678). The story goes on to say that he would have no contact with his son and grandchildren for eight years. This shows that playing a role in society can cause a person and his family pain. Okeke could not cope with being looked at as a failure. In the end of the story we see him begin to realize that he might not ever regain contact with his son. This scares him and makes him finally question his emotions. He believes that he is fighting a losing battle. Yet, he was so quick to judge what people would think and not what his son would feel. We do not know the end of the story and I think that is because the author is attempting to make a point. Each person has a role in society and that effects the decisions in your life. Yet, society can mold a person’s role but it can not force an individual to make personal decisions.
In both stories we see how roles in society can effect an individual negatively. When reading the stories I saw evidence to an important question that one could ask about role playing in society. Can striving for acceptance in society lead you to be unhappy? The answer demonstrated through these two stories is apparently yes. Emily, as a young girl, appeared to be happy but was also alone. Being segregated and alone led Emily to kill a person that might have threatened to leave. Not being allowed to socialize or not ever being free can make a person with all of the honor and money in the world unhappy. An example of this is that Okeke lost a part of his family and heart when he decided to disown his son. Being branded by others can lead you to feel actually powerless, even if you are highly respected. These characters did not struggle with placement but the consequences when they were there.