How do readers respond to the narration of the story "A Rose for Emily" by Wiliam Faulkner?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” falls into the category of a timeless masterpiece.  Two aspects of the story make it stand out in literature: the fractured time frame and the narration.  First the story is not told in chronological order. Secondly, the tale is told in first person point of view with narrator, an undisclosed citizen of Jefferson, Mississippi, [who seems to know everything about everyone, but no one knows who, why, or how].  This feature of the story lets the reader in on the secrets of the town and especially the heroine, Emily Grierson.  Without this unusual narration, the story would be just another murder mystery. 

The narrator represents a collective “we” for the townspeople.  Providing the events as the speaker determines when the reader should know something effectively arranges the story in a cunning way.   

There are no clues to decipher the gender of the speaker.

We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her...

Some critics point to the narration belonging to Faulkner himself as he tells the story as though he is a member of the community.  Some of the commentary indicates that the speaker might be masculine when he refers to the ladies of the town in a more critical way:

Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people. The men did not want to interfere...

The men are given a more respectful position for Emily when they consider being a fallen monument when she dies. However, there are no absolutes here.  The gender of the speaker is undetermined. 

Consider that the narrator follows Emily throughout her seventy four years.  How does he know so much? He never seems to change.   The story's details may be  gathered from gossip, interviews, or just the authorial words of Faulkner himself as the narrator. These are questions which cannot be answered without interjecting guesses.

The narrator never condemns Emily for anything she does. His sympathy extends to her most brazen actions.  The irony emerges in the narrator’s admiration for Emily from separating herself from the world that has passed her by, while she commits one of the most heinous crimes.  Of course, the narrator recognizes that Emily’s isolation, loneliness, and probable mental illness drive her toward the murder of Homer.

The narrator knows things that he does share with the reader until the end of the story. 

Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced.

Strangely, the only time the narrator separates himself from the townspeople comes in the breaking down the door to the upstairs room:

They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it...

Yet, when they find the contents of the room, the narrator is standing in the midst of the other people:

For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin.

“Regardless of identity, the narrator proves to be a clever, humorous, and sympathetic storyteller.” Popular among all readers this is a story not to be missed. The macabre incidences related by the unique narration work to make this one of the great American short stories.

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A Rose for Emily

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