Explain the author's use of the narrator to explain the town's obsession with Emily Grierson's life in  "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner employs a narrator who tells the story from the vantage point of a citizen of the town.  Little details about the narrator are given; however, he is essentially the main character.

The narrator controls the fractured time sequence and conveys important aspects of the story.  Essentially, the unnamed narrator speaks for the town.

The story is divided into five parts with each part depicting important scenes, slowly preparing the reader for the gruesome resolution of the story. 

The narrator’s commentary denotes the actions and thoughts of the townspeople.  From the details that the narrator provides, the townspeople watched obsessively Emily’s life.  This obsession culminates in the aftermath of the funeral when the citizens finally can enter the  Grierson’s home and discover for themselves what is in the upstairs bedroom. 

Following the fractured time frame, the narrator begins and ends the story with Emily’s death.  There are many incidences in each section. Only one per section will be discussed.

Section I

Emily’s funeral is attended by everyone in town.  The women wanted to get inside her house to snoop and the men to pay their respects. 

Colonel Sartoris intended for Emily never to pay taxes.  After his death, the new council began to hound Emily to pay her taxes.  A taskforce is sent to her house to further emphasize that she owed money. The group is quickly dismissed by Emily. 

“See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.”

Section II

In this section, the neighbors complain to the mayor about a smell emanating from Emily’s property. After more complaints, a covert group of men sneak to her house at night and sniff out the smell’s location and place lime everywhere possible.

Although the town pitied Emily, they thought that the Grierson family was arrogant.  According to Emily’s father, none of the young men in town were good enough for her; consequently, he doomed Emily to a spinster’s life. The town was not pleased that Emily was alone but felt justified.

When her father died, the house was all that was left to her; and people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily.

Section III

When Homer Barron came to town, Emily and he begin a courtship; yet, Homer had specified that he liked men.  Rumors run rampant when the pair was seen riding around in a carriage every Sunday. 

The town comments on the events of the courtship:

  • Glad that she had an interest
  • Never marry a northerner
  • Losing her reputation
  • Need family to intercede
  • Poor Emily
  • Whispering about what the pair was doing in the carriage
  • Fallen woman

Emily buys poison from the druggist.

Section IV

The town thought that Emily would use the poison to kill herself. It is suggested that she would marry Homer. Some women felt that Emily was setting a bad example for the young girls.  The women took action and sent for her cousins to watch over her.

The narrator comments that the town waited for what was going to happen next.

Emily ordered a lot of things with H. B. engraved on them.

The town reacted by saying that “They were married.”

Section V

The women clamor to get into the house after the funeral.  For the first time, the narrator admits that he is there with the other people. 

The door is opened and the skeleton is found along with the gray hair on the pillow.  The townspeople stay in the room looking around for a long time. No further comments are provided by the narrator. 

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A Rose for Emily

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