How does the structure of "A Rose for Emily" contribute to its tragic resolution?

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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.

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The story begins with Miss Emily's funeral, and we learn that the "whole town" went as a result either of "respectful affection for a fallen monument" or out of some "curiosity to see the inside of her house." Such a description establishes Miss Emily as a somewhat lone figure, someone who is more like a symbol than a person, at least to the other citizens of the town. We might already begin to imagine that this "monument" of a woman who let no one come into her house might have been a lonesome figure.

Then, throughout the story, we get more information that seems to confirm this hunch, including the fact that her father chased away her suitors and then died, leaving her so tragically alone that she couldn't bring herself to accept his death, and then her one companion, Homer Barron, abandoned her as well. It's true that some odd things happen throughout—the weird smell, the rat poison, Homer's disappearance, and so forth—but the opening has taught us to feel sorry for Emily and not to suspect her, and so we may even miss some of the clues that all is not well in her home.

In the end, we return to the day of her funeral, and we might even learn of the "man's toilet things" and collar and tie tucked away in her private room as some kind of sweet homage to her lost Homer. That is, until we read that "The man himself lay in the bed" with his "profound and fleshless grin," and that his rotting corpse "had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay." Instead, however, of writing Miss Emily off as a crazy murderer, though, there is a more tragic mood associated with what she's done because of her history. We recognize her horrifying action as the behavior of a desperate woman rather than a crazed one.

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The disjointed, non-linear way "A Rose for Emily" is written is intentional, suggesting the way the past and present can co-exist. By moving forward and backward through the decades and interrupting present action with abrupt flashbacks, Faulkner suggests the ways that the past and present affect one another and the people involved in these memories. That the story both begins and ends in the same afternoon of Emily's funeral, yet spans the decades of her life, demonstrates how closely events of the past can influence the present.

The nonlinear structure of the text also sets up a mystery for the readers to solve. By the time readers work out just what Emily wanted with the rat poison and what exactly happened to Homer Barron, it's the end of the story, and the townspeople are finding his body. The abrupt shifts in time, place, and event could almost suggest a group of the townspeople gossiping about the mysterious Miss Emily, interrupting each other to get across another piece of the puzzle that is her life. 

One reason that Miss Emily is seen (at least partly) as a sympathetic character despite being a creepy murderer is due to the plot structure. Her murder of Homer Barron is always suggested, never explicit. Furthermore, this climax of the story is buried in the middle, with her buying the rat poison. After that the focus is on whether or not she'll live happily ever after with Barron and how sad it is that he apparently has left forever. The focus is on Miss Emily for the rest of the story, and we don't return to Barron until finding his body in the final scene, which creates at least some tragic pity for crazy Miss Emily. 


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