A Rose for Emily: Analysis

William Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily’ stands out for its distinctive narrative voice, which adds to the story's enduring appeal. Unlike Faulkner's other well-known stories, such as ‘Barn Burning’ and ‘Dry September’, ‘A Rose for Emily’ utilizes narration not merely to present a linear narrative, but to create specific effects that warrant closer examination.

The Unconventional Narrator

The narrator of ‘A Rose for Emily’ is unique in that they employ the first-person plural pronoun ‘we’ to describe themselves. They do not represent a character within the story, nor are they an omniscient third-person narrator with a detached viewpoint. Instead, they possess a distinct presence, albeit intangible and enigmatic. This characterization aligns with the story's Southern Gothic atmosphere, featuring a reclusive figure, Miss Emily Grierson, who conceals a dark secret within the attic of her house.

The narrator remains unnamed throughout the story, inviting significant critical speculation regarding their identity and symbolic role. Are they an individual member of the town, or do they represent the collective voice of the community? By unraveling the narrator's purpose, we gain insights into the story's interpretation. If they symbolize the entire town, it suggests a unified perspective on Emily and her life. Alternatively, if they are an individual speaking on behalf of the community, we should approach their narration more cautiously.

For instance, early in the story, the narrator claims that ‘our whole town’ attended Emily's funeral. This assertion prompts questions about the credibility of such a statement and highlights the gossipy nature of the narrator's storytelling, where facts intertwine with rumors.

A Nonlinear Narrative Style

Beyond the unconventional narrator, ‘A Rose for Emily’ employs a non-linear narrative structure. The story opens and closes with the events surrounding Emily's death, while the middle section delves into significant incidents from her life. Faulkner skillfully employs foreshadowing to hint at the story's grim conclusion.

Throughout the narrative, Faulkner drops subtle clues about Emily's actions and motivations. For instance, he mentions the foul smell that plagued the town after Emily's sweetheart abandoned her and the purchase of arsenic following her relationship with Homer Barron. These hints, scattered throughout the story, require attentive readers to piece together the chronology and uncover the suggestion that Emily may have murdered Barron.

This narrative technique serves several purposes. Firstly, it allows Faulkner to gradually build mystery and suspense surrounding Emily and her past. Readers become intrigued by the unresolved questions: What happened to Homer after entering her house? What was the true nature of her relationship with her father, and why does she keep a crayon portrait of him?

Secondly, this mode of narration aligns with the story's central theme. Emily exists as an object of fascination, viewed solely through the lens of the townspeople. She remains silent throughout the story, and her character is only explored through the perspective of the narrator, who represents or speaks for the entire community. Emily would likely tell her own story differently.

Thirdly, the non-linear structure enables Faulkner to emphasize Emily's death as a starting point and subsequently trace her life backward. As ‘A Rose for Emily’ reflects the decline of the Old South following the Civil War, it is significant that the symbolic ‘monument’ to that bygone era is already deceased when the narrative commences.

In conclusion, ‘A Rose for Emily’ captivates readers with its enigmatic narrator and non-linear narrative style. The story invites contemplation on the nature of storytelling and the community's perspective on Emily. Through the interplay of narrator and narrative structure, Faulkner unveils layers of mystery and explores themes of isolation, perception, and the fading remnants of the past.

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