ENGL 1302Professor BoninbyMary Finch The Importance of Gender Conflicts Literature to Society Past and Present Gender conflict arises when one set or another defies social norn through thought or actions. Society is constantly changing, some would say evolving, and gender roles are constantly being redefined. Female have traditionally been subservient to males women throughout the passage of time have found themselves fighting our male dominated society in order to gain their rights and remedies in the legal system and society itself. At one time in American society, women were not permitted to own property, were discouraged from seeking higher education and were relegated to home and hearth. Men were hunter and women were gatherers. World War II and the subsequent Industrial Revolution put women into the American workforce, not only in large numbers, but also for the first time in American history, in jobs that were traditionally male dominated positions. The war effort actively recruited the women due to lack of males available for these factory positions in large part because most of the healthy males were engaged in active military service. It was during this time that many women discovered that they could be financially independent of their male family members and because disgruntled when the war effort ended; thus our male dominated society sought once again to sentence them to the limited existence they lived before the war. Gender conflict is not limited to females in our society. Men who seek to be house husbands or wish to take on the role of primary caretaker for the children, suffer the stigma society attaches to them as being too lazy to go out to support their families, or are viewed and possibly as effeminate homosexual I have chosen three works in which gender conflict arises. Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”; Sophocles’ “Antigone”; and McElroy’s “My Fathers Wars”. I include McElroy’s poem because I felt it essential to show that despite the feminist belief that only they, as women, encounter gender discrimination, McElroy shows through her work that men encounter the same types of social stigmas when they attempt to cross the gender line as well. William Faulkner was born Sept 25, 1897 to Murry C and Maud Butler Faulkner in New Albany Mississippi. He was the oldest of four sons. His education was speractic and he did not graduate from high school. Having already determined that he wanted to become a writer he could be said to be self educated through extensive reading. Faulkner served briefly with the Royal Air Force in Canada, worked as a clerk at a Lord and Taylor’s book shop and in 1921 he returned to Oxford Mississippi and became a postmaster. Faulkner stayed briefly in New Orleans and traveled the literary circle of that community. He returned to Oxford at the end of 1925. On June 20, 1929 he married Estelle Oldham. In 1950 Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for literature. Faulkner died July 16, 1962, the same year he declined an invitation to a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners hosted by President and Mrs. J.F. Kennedy. (Ford & Kincaid 4-11) Sophocles was born at clonus, in 496 B. C.. He won his first victory in tragic competition in 468 B. C.. In 443-442 B. C., Sophocles was elected Steward of the Imperial Treasury. The next year was the year Antigone made Sophocles famous. (Woodward 175) Sophocles was 55 years old. Sophocles, through his political offices sought to widen democracy and extend imperialism. Sophocles died during a recitation of Antigone to a group of friends. The year is presumed to be 406 or 405 B. C.. (Brown 3-4) Unfortunately, my efforts to find biographical information on Colleen J. McElroy yielded no results. So I am limited only to the information provided by our textbook. It show Colleen McElroy’s birth as 1935. The publication of her poem, “My Fathers Wars” was in 1984. Further, because of my inability to locate information on Ms. McElroy, I will have no professional criticism to cite in relations to her work. All interpretations are my own. “A Rose for Emily”; probably Faulkner’s best short story, is surely one of the most grim yet touching stories in all English literature….” (O’Connor p.68). O’Connor blames the severity of the treatment Emily Grierson received at the hands of her father for her subsequent emotional breakdown. He further states that it is the denial to her of normal relationships that frustrates her into withdrawing from society (O’Connor 68-69). Faulkner incorporated social attitudes in his subject matter (Read 16). It is these social attitudes that Miss Emily defies in word and deed. She defies the leaders of her community by acting in what was considered an unladylike manner. After her fathers death she is said to have paraded around town with a Yankee beau, brazenly holding her head high. No mention is made as to whether behavior of Homer Barron is acceptable, implying a double standard that exists within the townsfolk. Miss Emily further defies social norms when she retreats into her house like a hermit seeking solace from the meddlers of her community. Folklore traditionally portrays hermits as males. Most striking of all Emily Griersons gender bending actions is her murder of Homer Barron. Then an now, women characteristically do not commit violent crimes, much less murder. Emily boldly buys the arsenic that she poisons Homer with, refusing to tell the pharmacist what her intended purpose is for the powder. She defiantly stands face to face with the pharmacists and refuses to answer his query. For a woman of that time period this was a bold and brazen act of defiance towards the male pharmacist. I like to think that Miss Emily was using a mental reservation in her refusal to tell her true intension for the arsenic. A willful thought of “What you don’t know can’t hurt me.” For while she was using her station as a well respected woman to shame the druggist into submission, she was methodically planning the murder of Homer Barron.
At the ver least, Emily Greison could be said to have engaged in necroiatry, having murdered and subsequently coveting the body of Homer Barron. In Miss Emily’s time, the murder of a man by a women was unthinkable. Today, one would be hard pressed to find a female necrophilia; more because of the physical limitation of an actual sex act that a women would encounter, whereas male necrophilia do not face the same physical barriers to acts such as these. Emily further defies the traditional role of women for her time when she refuses to pay her taxes. Emily once again defies social norm by refusing to comply with the demands of her male dominated society. The center of Sophocles’ vision is said to be the clash of opposites as well as the tension between individual will and circumstance. Woodward states that Antigone embodies cosmic forces even as she battle them. Contains within herself a complete world view and moral code and is at once larger then life and tragically vulnerable to it. (Woodward-Jacket) “Antigone,” the play embodies the struggle of custom us, nature. Antigone is said to be hard and at times unloving. (Brown XI) In this play Antigone is denied her religious duty to give proper burial to her brother Polyneices. Antigone believes that Kinship demands service in death as in life (Brown 76) Antigone feels that the edict by her uncle forbidding the ceremonial burial of her brother is sacrilegious and defies her uncle by performing the burial rites not one but twice; Further, a controversy erupts between Antigone and her sister Ismene. Ismene is determined to follow the letter of the law mandated by her uncle regarding the burial of Polyneices. They argue at length, Antigone determining that the will of the Gods overrules any law made of man and sneaks away to perform the burial ceremony. Antigone in her actions further disgraces the men of her society, in as much as she performed the burial while several men were assigned to watch over the dead soldier on the battlefield. She also boldly takes responsibility for her actions, when as a women she could easily have denied the first burials as an act of the Gods. Antigone also accepts her eventual death for her actions and faces death with her belief that she did the right thing. In contrast to the works of Faulkner and Sophocles, Colleen McElroy shows how gender conflict enters the life of her father. McElroys father a decorated army veteran, once a strict military disciplinarian. She tells how age has taken a toll on what once must have been a finely toned muscular body. One can imagine her father as he once was, vibrant and loyal. McElroy then goes on to describe the person he is now. His body is older and he has trouble warming up his muscles in the morning. The once active man now is forced to spend his days in front of the television watching soap operas. Her father now finds himself the weaker sex of his marriage and has fallen into days filled with the mindless chatter of television game shows and video games. He talks to the television, at times issuing commands to the characters who will never follow his orders. It is as if he has taken on some of the stereotypical roles attributed to the housewife who stays at home all day, sitting on the couch, watching television and eating bon-bons. He himself struggles with the conflict within him when he goes outside to polish his car, a manly duty, and to stand near the bumper sticker that tells of the man he used to be: US Army retired regular. At least that which was who he was cannot be taken away from him, no matter how much his body defies him. What must have been the very first gender conflict may very well have been that very nasty incident involving Adam, and Eve and the snake in the garden of Eden. Eve might very well have invented the snake story in order to save face with God and Adam. Perhaps she was only attempting to make her own place in the social order, and perhaps it was this one controversy in Eden that set the course for gender conflicts for thousands of years to come.
Brown, Richard Emil, translator, and William Arrow Smith. Editor. Sophocles Antigone. New York & London Oxford University Press; 1973 Faulkner, William. “Arose for Emily.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, writing. Third Edition. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, Editors. Harcourt Broke College Publisher: Fort Worth, Philadelphia, San Diego… 1997, 1994, 1991. pp 79-88. Ford, Margaret Patricia and Suzanne Kincaid. Who’s Who in Faulkner, Louisiana State University Press. Binghomton, NY. 1963 McElroy, Colleen J. “My Father’s Wars. “Literature: Reading Reaction, Writing. Third Edition. Laurie G. Kirszner and Steven R..Mandell, Editors. Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Fort Worth Philadelphia San Diego… 1997, 1994, 1991. pp 644. O’Connor, William Van. The Tangled Fire of William Faulkner. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis. 1954 Reed, Joseph W. Jr. Faulkner’s Narrative Yale University Press: New Haven and London. 1973 Sophocles. Antigone. Literature: Reading Reacting, Writing Third Edition. Laurie G. Kirszner and Steven R..Mandell, Editors. Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Fort Worth Philadelphia San Diego… 1997, 1994, 1991. pp 1708-1740 Woodwand, Thomas. Sophocles. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs NJ. 1966