In "A Rose for Emily" how much responsibility, if any, does the community bear for Miss Emily's crime?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The first indication that there IS a sense of responsibility that is shared by the community is evident in the narrative of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily". The unnamed townsfolk narrator is actually a composite of all the voices and thoughts of Emily's community as it witnessed the decline and end of such an enigmatic woman.

Notice how the entire story is told from the "We" and "Us" perspective. This is because, as a representative of Jefferson County's golden age, Miss Emily is certainly that one vestige that remains constant in the psyche of the community as a whole. The result of her perennial presence is that the town now feels, not only connected, but somewhat responsible to watch out for her, and protect her, the way that they would protect any other object of affinity related to Jefferson.

Yet, that same narrative voice tells us how hard such a task is. Like a rose, Emily is rare and has thorns that prevent you from getting "too close". The combination of her upbringing, her overprotective and overbearing father, the limitations of her gender, and the sad alignment of life events, make her inaccessible to the rest of the world. For this reason, it is with much sadness that the narrator explains (almost as if excusing himself) how Jefferson had no choice but to let Emily go about her way. This is one of the reasons why, when Emily tried to hold on to her father's body after his death, the townsfolk narrator excuses Emily through the voice of their condoning:

We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away and we knew that, with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

This passage is perhaps the most embracing one we can find in the story. It clearly denotes the sense of responsibility and care that the town feels for Emily and it also serves as a way to, somehow, try to forgive her.

Let us not forget either that it was the townspeople, with the permission of the town officials, that powdered Emily's house with limestone when "the foul smell" coming out of her house started to bother the community. Although there was the option to confront Emily and reprimand her, maybe the people "knew" that Emily is a circumstantial victim of the environment of which they are also a part. Perhaps this, too, is another demonstration of the sense of responsibility that the town bear for Miss Emily.


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