William Faulkner has carefully structured “A Rose for Emily” to create and maintain the idea that the narrator is omniscient and that the story they are telling is accurate and unbiased. At the same time, the author deliberately undermines that impression because the narrator provides information that no single person, or even several people, could have obtained. Rather than facts, what the narrator is presenting is gossip or local lore. The narrator, who is not named and whose gender is not provided, speaks in first-person plural, referring to themselves as “we” throughout. By doing so, they suggest that they are giving the views of more than one person rather than using the “royal we” to present one person’s views. The type of information provided and the long time frame covered further suggest that the narrator presumes to speak for the entire town.
Faulkner begins to convey the impression of a collective view from the first line, as the narrator refers to “our whole town.” The unreliability of the narrator’s information is also immediately established, as they say that “no one ... had seen [her house's interior] in at least ten years.” Further, the exception to that “no one” is “an old man-servant": this highly specific mention emphasizes a distinction between Emily’s household and the rest of the town, and this is later is shown to be a racial distinction as well, for the man is African American.
For much of the remainder of the story, the narrator recedes, and the text is written in third-person perspective. This enhances the factual impression that the narrator apparently intends to convey. Much of the story concerns events from the past, and the reader does not learn how the narrator acquired that information.
Toward the end of section II, the “we” begins to intrude again, within a paragraph that ostensibly presents the views of “people in our town,” who “had begun to feel sorry for” Emily. At the end of the section, the narrator asserts that they continued to have a generally positive view, but the emphasis on sanity casts that into question: “We did not say she was crazy then.”
At the end of section IV, the distinction is furthered between the collective “we” of the townspeople and Emily and her servant (who the narrator refers to as “the Negro” or disparagingly as “a doddering Negro man”), who do not share information with the townspeople. The implicit idea is that they did not believe she was entitled to privacy.
Given this secrecy, what is notable is that the narrator does not mention how the town learned of her death: “And so she died. We did not even know she was sick.” Suddenly, relatives arrive and enter the house, the servant leaves town, and the townspeople invade her home. In section V, similarly, the narrator does not say how the acquired their knowledge: “Already we knew that there was one room ... which no one had seen in forty years.”
It is only at this point that the narrator provides eye-witness testimony, as contrasted to the hearsay of the body of the story. “For a long while we just stood there.” Finally, the narrator suggests that they acted individually: “One of us lifted something from” the pillow. Here again, this individuality is subordinated to the collective impression that they want to make. The story ends, as it began, with the impression of multiple people acting in concert: “we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.” In this case, however, the “we” cannot mean “our whole town,” as only a few people could have fit into the room. The suggestion of collective knowledge is thereby undermined by the insistence that the few stand for the totality. The tragic resolution is to emphasize the townspeople's presumption of their right to interfere in any individual's business.