Essays and Criticism
Overview of “A Rose for Emily”
William Faulkner is widely considered to be one of the great American authors of the twentieth century. Although his greatest works are identified with a particular region and time (Mississippi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), the themes he explores are universal. He was also an extremely accomplished writer in a technical sense. Novels such as The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! feature bold experimentation with shifts in time and narrative. Several of his short stories are favorites of anthologists, including ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ This strange story of love, obsession, and death is a favorite among both readers and critics. The narrator, speaking for the town of Jefferson in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, tells a series of stories about the town's reclusive spinster, Miss Emily Grierson. The stories build up to a gruesome revelation after Miss Emily's funeral. She apparently poisoned her lover Homer Barron, and kept his corpse in an attic bedroom for over forty years. It is a common critical cliché to say that a story ‘‘exists on many levels,’’ but in the case of ‘‘A Rose for Emily,’’ this is the truth. Critic Frank A. Littler, in an essay published in Notes on Mississippi Writers regarding the chronology of the story, writes that ‘‘A Rose for Emily’’ has been read variously as...
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Another View of Faulkner’s Narrator in “A Rose for Emily”
In a recent article, Hal Blythe discusses the central role played by the narrator in William Faulkner's gothic masterpiece ‘‘A Rose for Emily.’’ Focusing on Miss Emily's bizarre affair and how it affronts the chivalric notions of the Old South, the narrator, according to Blythe, attempts to assuage the grief produced by Miss Emily's rejection of him by relating her story; telling her tale allows him to exact a measure of revenge. Faulkner's speaker, without doubt, serves as a pivotal player in this tale of grotesque love. Although Blythe grasps the significance of the narrator's place in the story, he bases his argument on a point that the story itself never makes completely clear. Blythe assumes that Faulkner's narrator is male. The possibility exists, however, that Faulkner intended his readers to view the tale-teller as being female.
Hints in the text suggest that Faulkner's speaker might be a woman. The narrative voice (the ‘‘we’’ in the story), a spokesperson for the town, appears very concerned with every detail of Emily's life. Faulkner provides us with an important clue concerning the gender of this narrator when he describes the townspeople's reaction to Emily's attachment to Homer Barron: ‘‘The men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister … to call upon her.’’ Jefferson's male population seems apathetic regarding Emily's tryst; the men are not the least bit...
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Another Flower for Faulkner’s Bouquet: Theme and Structure in “A Rose for Emily”
Nearly everyone familiar with the writings of William Faulkner is aware of the fracturings of time so common in his work. Many of his major characters spend much of their fictional lives trying to piece together their experiences and lives, to put them in some kind of chronological or existential order. Few of them succeed; and when they do, as is perhaps the case with Quentin Compson (The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!) they most often find that to make sense of their lives is to create the necessity for self-destruction. But, most often, Faulkner's characters are like Charles Bon of Absalom, Absalom! who, when he leaves for college, is only on the periphery of an area of knowledge about himself and his world. Bon is described as ‘‘almost touching the answer lurking, just beyond his reach, inextricable, jumbled, and unrecognizable yet on the point of falling into a pattern which would reveal to him at once, like a flash of light, the meaning of his whole life.’’
But if Faulkner's characters are often at a loss with respect to the movements of their existences through time, his critics cannot be. Indeed, such detailings of temporal chronology, together with structural elaborations, provide some of the most lucid and meaningful understandings of Faulkner's fiction. Almost all of Faulkner's...
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Atmosphere and Theme in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
The first clues to meaning in a short story usually arise from a detection of the principal contrasts which an author sets up. The most common, perhaps, are contrasts of character, but when characters are contrasted there is usually also a resultant contrast in terms of action. Since action reflects a moral or ethical state, contrasting action points to a contrast in ideological perspectives and hence toward the theme.
The principal contrast in William Faulkner's short story ‘‘A Rose for Emily’’ is between past time and present time: the past as represented in Emily herself, in Colonel Sartoris, in the old Negro servant, and in the Board of Aldermen who accepted the Colonel's attitude toward Emily and rescinded her taxes; the present is depicted through the unnamed narrator and is represented in the new Board of Aldermen, in Homer Barron (the representative or Yankee attitudes toward the Griersons and through them toward the entire South), and in what is called ‘‘the next generation with its more modern ideas.’’
Atmosphere is defined in the Dictionary of World Literature as ‘‘The particular world in which the events of a story or a play occur: time, place, conditions, and the attendant mood.’’ When, as in ‘‘A Rose for Emily,’’ the world depicted is a confusion between the past and the present, the atmosphere is one of distortion—of unreality. This unreal world results from the suspension of a natural...
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