First-person collective narrator is part of the genius of "A Rose for Emily." First-person perspective uses personal pronouns like "I" and "we." It is a useful perspective because it brings readers very close to the action through the presence of the narrator as a character. First-person can be challenging, though, in that the character who is narrator must be physically present for every part of the plot. To tell the story of a recluse like Ms. Emily, one would imagine third-person to be necessary, or that Emily would need to tell it, but Faulkner bypasses this hurdle by turning his first-person narrator into a collective "we," representing the whole town of Jefferson, Mississippi.
Individuals within the town are present to give different eyewitness accounts and to relay heard rumors about Emily. Their gossip is filtered through the narrator's voice, and so a person like Emily, who has no intimate relationships with people in the town (except perhaps Tobe), comes to be known by them collectively. At least, the reader can come to know who the town guesses Ms. Emily is and what she has done based on all the gossip.
In part 1, the Board of Aldermen contributes to the gossip, offering the narrator a description of the decaying house and Ms. Emily herself. The house is said to be dusty, and Ms. Emily is described as "a small, fat woman in black" with "a pallid hue" and "eyes lost in the ridges of her face." Through this eyewitness account, the reader gets a firsthand impression of Ms. Emily as an almost corpse-like monster living in her decaying, dirty lair. The gossip must spread about the house and how she looked, because men attend her funeral "out of respect for a fallen monument" and women "mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house." The women of Jefferson believe Tobe, a black man who works for Emily, is responsible for the bad state of the house: "Just as if a man—any man—could keep a kitchen properly," they gossip in section 2.
Men and women alike have complained of the smell, and together these individuals of the town discuss what to do about it as they make conjectures about its cause. The women think the smell is caused by a dirty kitchen, probably thinking of rotting meat left too long on the countertop, and Judge Stevens thinks it is a snake or a rat that has been killed by Tobe and just left there. This scenario of conjecture and the town working together to interfere in Emily's life shows one stroke of brilliance in the narrative. Small details noticed by some individuals snowball through talk into a great mystery about Ms. Emily. But no one becomes well enough acquainted with her to reveal the answer to all the small mysteries about her, which is simply that she killed Homer and kept his body. Eventually, someone is sent to pour lime in her yard to cover the smell. In doing this, the town ironically helps bury Emily's darkest secret .
In listening to the narrator's varying views about Ms. Emily, the reader can join in the gossip and invent theories of their own about her as new information leaks. Perhaps it is her father's corpse that made the smell, the reader thinks when they find out later she was unwilling to give up the body. Perhaps she did kill rats with the arsenic, instead of killing herself, as the town conjectured. Later the reader begins contemplating Homer Barron's disappearance and is not disappointed at the end to discover their dark guesses about Emily were right.
The first-person collective narration creates mystery and throws the reader into Jefferson to experience the voyeuristic delight of unburying the "fallen monument's" true history.