In “A Rose for Emily,” how does Faulkner build suspense? Is it effective?  

In “A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner builds suspense by using the character of the unnamed first-person narrator, beginning the story with reference to Emily’s death, and portraying Emily as growing increasingly eccentric with age. The narrator immediately tells the reader that the townspeople attended her funeral but not how she died. As the story progresses, this narrator elaborates on their descriptions of Emily’s eccentricities, which increases the reader’s curiosity about her and Homer’s ultimate fates.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The suspense in “A Rose for Emily” builds in two different ways, which yield varying results. The character of the narrator is significant in both aspects. William Faulkner carefully avoids presenting any specific information about this narrator but has them speak in first person, which makes them seem to be one of Emily’s fellow townspeople. The narrator generates suspense about how Emily died and what happened to Homer, and both are only partially relieved. The other aspect of the suspense is even more effective: we never learn who the narrator is or how they know the vast store of information they present—or even if any of it is true.

Along with using this mysterious narrator, Faulkner uses the story’s structure to build suspense. He opens the story with the narrator referring to Emily’s death and funeral, quickly followed by details of her life in the years after her father’s death. The plot structure is not strictly chronological, however, but presents numerous incidents out of sequence as the narrator calls attention to her eccentricities. Faulkner carefully places the Homer episode about midway through the story, thereby piquing the reader’s interest in this new character and how he will fit into the overall plot. The final scenes, as the townspeople reportedly flood through her now-empty house, leave some elements unexplained. The Southern gothic aspect of the story veers toward a horror story, leaving elements of mystery unresolved at the end.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial