A Rose for Emily Essay
“A Rose for Emily” is uniquely narrated and arranged. Faulkner uses the first-person narrative with a twist. The narrator is never identified but speaks for the whole town. The time setting jumps back and forth between the present and past, when finally reaching a bigger climax, than if a traditional arrangement of time would have been used. Only Faulkner could have written such a masterful essay with these arrangements and narrative techniques.
The type of narration in this story is familiar to most people, especially women. The narrator is part of a small-town gossip mill. Faulkner continuously uses “we” when the narrator speaks. Even though there are vague hints about which person the narrator is, the whole town really becomes the narrator. Gossip takes a life of its own; in this essay, gossip comes alive as the narrator.
Another possibility is that the narrator holds a job at the town hall. There are two reasons for this conclusion. The first reason is Faulkner’s following quote, “Each December we sent her a tax notice.” Since Faulkner was not clear in this story the “we” could mean the whole town again, or someone employed by the town hall. Faulkner could have meant the narrator to be the workers of the town hall. The second reason for believing the narrator was among the town hall employees is the personal observation of the room at the end of the story. Faulkner wrote, “The violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust.” Who else but a policeman or town hall employee opens this room with the family? The family was not in town throughout the story, so that rules them out, but a town hall employee makes perfect sense.
The narration in “A Rose for Emily” allows Faulkner to take liberties with Emily herself. Emily is seen through the narrator’s eyes, not what she really was. The abuse dealt with by her father, the humiliation of only being able to date a Yankee after father’s death, the town’s gossip, and other issues could only be speculated by the narrator. This makes the story more elusive and interesting than if every detail and emotion of Emily was lay bare.
The arrangement of this story is also interesting. The story starts in the present and then goes into the past. Eric Knickerbocker describes the essay timing as the following, “This toggling of events has been skillfully constructed, building suspense in a way that a straight forward chronology could not.” Knickerbocker is saying that by using this time frame, Faulkner can present a more suspenseful and nefarious story. The essay becomes a mystery, without the wait of hours of reading. Faulkner manages to create the satisfaction of a great mystery in under ten minutes of reading by using the flashback method.
By beginning with Emily’s death, the anticipation builds as the past is brought up. Clues like the smell around Emily’s house, her missing beau, and the purchase of arsenic all point to one conclusion, but until the last paragraph, the reader cannot be sure of the outcome. Faulkner could have started with Emily’s death and the discovery of her dead boyfriend, but it would not have made a dramatic story.
The narration and timing also work together in this story. By going back and forth the omnipresent gossip knows what events that had taken place, even events that occurred thirty years earlier. By using this gossipy narrator, the events of Emily’s life can be contemplated with the conclusion of the story coming only after her death.
Another way the narration and timing work together is to cause conjecture about key elements of the story. As mentioned above the narrator cannot be determined, but other facets of the essay remain a mystery. The following questions are left to speculation. Did Emily or her servant kill her beau? Was the dead man in the bed Emily’s beau? Why did Emily’s servant remain so loyal until after her death? Why did the town not push for the taxes owed on her home? Why was the dead man killed? Was it the arsenic? These are just a few questions raised by the narration and timing Faulkner used.
Faulkner did use unconventional narration and timing for “A Rose for Emily”. By making a group or gossip first narrative, Faulkner creates a short mystery. With the use of these methods, he creates questions in the readers’ minds. A good story makes people think. The narration shows the gossipy side of a town, a narrator watching a play he has no part in. The timing allows the narrator and the reader to be a spectator in Emily’s life, instead of a direct participant. Faulkner’s method left him in complete control of this story, even long after “A Rose for Emily” was written. This story shows why Faulkner is still studied to this day.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” 31 July 2006
Knickerbocker, Eric. “William Faulkner: The Faded Rose of Emily.” 15 Mar. 2003. Mr. Renaissance. 31 July 2006