In "A Rose for Emily," how does the narrator characterize the townspeople of Jefferson?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a good question. Well done for coming up with it! Certainly what is interesting about the narration of this Gothic tale is that it comes through a kind of community chorus, in that it is the townspeople that observe and relate what happened to Miss Emily and her exploits.

The townspeople of Jefferson mostly play the role of voyeur with Miss Emily, watching, gossiping and debating what is going on with her with great interest. Note the importance that she had as described in the text:

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 manservant - a combined gardener and cook - had seen in at least ten years.

Note how no one comes to her funeral out of friendship and love. We can infer that she led a lonely life, and certainly the community has very little to do with her. They only try to talk with her when there was a problem, such as when the Aldermen try to convince her that she needs to pay taxes or the community insist that she gives up the dead body of her father. Apart from that, she is left to dwell in isolation and fade away quietly in the face of much gossip and speculation. Even when she goes and buys arsenic, the community do nothing, expecting her to kill herself:

So the next day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing.

To the community, we can see that they are enthralled with Miss Emily's life as if it were a soap opera to observe and enjoy. And yet the townspeople seem to lack any common humanity or ability to reach out to Miss Emily - she is an object to be debated, watched and discussed.

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A Rose for Emily

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