What aspects of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" could best be used for literary analysis?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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One aspect of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” that lends itself well to analysis is the fact that the story is told by a first-person narrator. This fact is clear from the very first paragraph:

WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.

Practically every word the narrator offers when telling the story almost inevitably characterizes the narrator in some way. Even as he reports details of the plot and describes the other characters, he also offers subtle clues about himself.

In the paragraph quoted above, for instance, it seems significant that he uses the word “Miss.” This word not only introduces a key theme of the story (that Emily is unmarried), but it also implies that the narrator believes in addressing people by respectful titles. The effect of the sentence would be different – less polite, less mannerly, more modern – if the narrator had not used the word “Miss.” The fact that the narrator uses the word “our” implies that he sees himself as a part of the community he describes.  The effect would be different if he had merely said “the” community. The narrator would then seem more distant from, and less involved with, the community he is describing. Presumably the narrator himself was present at the funeral; if he had simply said “the whole town,” he might have implied that he did not attend. Moreover, his distinction between the men and the women implies that such distinctions are important to the town and to him as well (otherwise he might not have mentioned it). Both the reference to “a fallen monument” and the description of the women’s motives may imply a sly sense of humor.

Whether or not one focuses on the narrator as the object of analysis, the preceding paragraph indicates that close attention to the actual phrasing of the story can also be a worthy topic of analytical attention. In a well-written piece of literature, every word, ideally, counts and is important. Every word contributes something to the meanings, effects, and effectiveness of the piece.  Focusing close attention of the actual phrasing of the story is an excellent way to develop one’s analytical skills and is also an excellent way to provide a detailed response to a writing assignment.



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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Another element of Faulkner's superb short story, "A Rose for Emily" worthy of analysis is his clever use of setting.  For, each of the five sections into which the story is divided is a shift in time; and, it is these shifts of time with the narrator's flashbacks that prevent readers from "putting all the pieces together." In addition, these shifts in time help to create the Gothic horror of the discovery at the end. 

Divided into five sections, "A Rose for Emily" has the first and last dealing with the present, the now of the narrative, while the three middle sections detail the past. Thus, the story begins and ends with the death of Miss Emily Grierson; the three middle sections cover the time right after her father's death and shortly after her "beau," Homer Barron, has deserted her, to the time of her death. 

Critics argue the shifts in time are metaphorical characterizations of the states of mind that the townspeople pass through in their evaluation of Miss Emily. Employing the narrators' remark,

Thus she passed from generation to generation--dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.

in his essay, "'A Rose for Emily':  Another View of Faulkner's Narrator," William V. Davis correlates the two sections of present time with the adjectives that fall to them, giving Miss Emily to the reader as the paradox she has become in death: "dear" and "perverse," while before her death, she was "inescapable, impervious, and tranquil." And, so, the woman who has been inscrutable and impenetrable is finally clarified by the shifts of time.  Indeed, the first section foreshadows the last: Her house smells of "dust" and "disuse" in "coquettish decay," there is a "tarnished gilded easel," and Miss Emily looks "bloated, like a body submerged"; in the last section, the man's toilet things are "tarnished silver" and "patient and biding dust" coats what is left of the nightshirt.

The shifts in time of Faulkner's setting serve to further the Gothic horror while they explicate the narrative.  And, as part of the plot, they hold the key to understanding "A Rose for Emily."


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