A Rose For Emily Point Of View

What point of view does "A Rose for Emily" use and what are its advantages?

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litminds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The narrator has more information about Miss Emily, her father and the town that the main character would ever reveal to the reader.

When a main character is the narrator, the story is told from a particular perspective, in this case, we would probably be even more sympathetic towards Emily than we are through the narrator's version.

We certainly would get to know Miss Emily's heart better.  The story does not give us insight into her thinking, only that we assume she murdered Homer Barron so that he would never leave her.  We don't get to hear Emily's thoughts through the narrator, that would be a nice touch. 

But the essence of horror would be minimized if Miss Emily told the story, we would see the whole experience through her eyes, she would probably rationalize her behavior.  

The point of view of a story is the most important decision a writer makes. It determines which story is told. Emily's version of the events would be quite different from someone else's version. Any person in the town would tell the story from his own experiences with Emily and his own attitudes toward her. By choosing a narrator who is not a part of the town, Faulker is able to achieve several things.

He can characterize the town in addition to developing Emily's character. The town itself becomes a character in the story. This says a lot about the nature of the small Southern town as Faulkner saw it: not a collection of independent individuals, but as a unified force of culture and tradition (group think).

By using the objective narrator, Faulkner is able to maintain the suspense of the story. The reader doesn't learn the story all at once because the narrator did not learn it that way.

Faulkner's narrator tells the story in a disjointed way, not in chronological order. He gives the reader clues, out of order. As the reader starts putting the clues together, a growing sense of horror develops.

Finally, Faulkner's narrator, as an outsider, is nonjudgmental. This makes it possible to preserve the possibility that the reader can develop some sympathy for Emily, despite her terrible act.

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The point of view for this story is different than most, representing Faulkner's unique style of telling a story. It is told in first person, meaning the narrator is a character in the story, but we never know the narrator's name. He speaks for the community, and in that sense, he can be considered the main character. He shows sympathy for Emily, but he's also clever and humorous as he tells his story. He puts the pieces of the story together and brings it to a shocking climax. He also shows sympathy for the town of Jefferson and feels the people of the town are unable to control their reactions.

The story is told by the narrator through a series of flashbacks that cover almost fifty years. He flashes back and forth through the events in Emily's life and the town of Jefferson. These events are related, but we don't get the clues in the order that the events occurred. What does this add to the story? The last scene in the story is powerful and shocking. By telling it in this way, the impact on the reader is great. Stop and think how the story would have affected you if it had been told in the usual beginning-to-end style. This type of narration is one reason why Faulkner's work is still read today.

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catharinek eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Faulkner writes about the South, and the enablers the townspeople become. While it is true that if Emily told the story the reader would not be surrounded by the mystery and gothic quality that the unnamed narrator creates, the unnamed narrator helps the reader understand the town's hand in Homer's murder.

The narrator is able to tell the story as the "town" knows it. What the town knows is that Emily's father ran off all of her suitors for selfish reasons. The reader also learns that Emily buys arsenic from the pharmacist and won't tell him why she wants it. Then the narrator explains the terrible stench coming from the house not long after Homer disappears. Finally, when the townspeople open the door, no one is truly shocked at what they find. This shows that the town had a good idea all along about what happened to Homer. In a sense, the town enables Emily's crime. This idea of knowing and not speaking is a part of Southern Gothic. If Faulkner had Emily tell the story, the reader would not have seen this or understood how the town is also a characater in the story.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"A Rose for Emily" is told in third person limited perspective.

Here is the definition of that point-of-view and its advantages:

Third person limited could be perceived as being told from the viewpoint character. It can be used very objectively, showing what is actually happening without the filter of the protagonist's personality, which can allow the author to reveal information that the protagonist doesn't know or realize. (*as in the case here, where the protagonist does not know until the end what the consequences of his, and the town's, actions have been)

However, some authors use an even narrower and more subjective perspective, as though the viewpoint character were narrating the story; this is dramatically very similar to the first person, allowing in-depth revelation of the protagonist's personality, but uses third-person grammar. Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another.

Further Reading:
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tdot-teacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The unnamed narrator achieves two purposes. First, it allows Faulkner to establish the townspeople as the "collective" through which the reader learns about this enigma named Miss Emily. If Faulkner established a particular narrator (either first- or third- person) who is defined, much of the narrative quality would be lost because the perspective would be significantly limited. If nothing else, the reader is meant to sympathize with Miss Emily, and limiting the narrative voice would significantly hinder this purpose. Second, having the narrator unnamed allows the reader the opportunity to enjoy the perspective of the townspeople who all attempt to understand Miss Emily without quite capturing the entire truth. As readers, we are left with bits and pieces of her life, told piecemeal in a non-chronological order, quite similar to the way in which the townspeople of Jefferson must approach her.

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The narrator has more information about Miss Emily, her father and the town that the main character would ever reveal to the reader.

When a main character is the narrator, the story is told from a particular perspective, in this case, we would probably be even more sympathetic towards Emily than we are through the narrator's version.

We certainly would get to know Miss Emily's heart better.  The story does not give us insight into her thinking, only that we assume she murdered Homer Barron so that he would never leave her.  We don't get to hear Emily's thoughts through the narrator, that would be a nice touch. 

But the essence of horror would be minimized if Miss Emily told the story, we would see the whole experience through her eyes, she would probably rationalize her behavior.  

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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From a narrative point of view, a townsperson is unable to see the events as Emily sees them. If Emily told the story, she would have to reveal the murder of Homer and her subsequent behavior towards him. A townsperson is able to present the clues for the reader and allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusions before discovering the shocking ending. Since our imagination is often more graphic that the real description of events, the horror of the story is heightened by allowing us to discover the truth at the same time as the rest of the town. It also allows the author to show the town and the Southern values of the town instead of those of Emily, whose mind is obviously twisted.

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lfawley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I agree with the above poster as the narrator allows each and every one of us, as readers, to be a member of the town in a way. Faulkner makes you feel as though you have just moved to town and you are getting the inside scoop on the skeletons in the town's closet. I think this perspective allows us, as readers, the freedom to make our own determinations about both the town and about Emily. The fact that the story becomes a bit of a horror tale makes it even more interesting because we are left wondering why we were made priivy to all of this in the first place.

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ask996 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Great points everyone’s made about the third person narrator. Having complete freedom to look into the story and construct our own meaning is one of the things that makes the story so fascinating. Imagine what a different story it would be if Emily told it. We either wouldn’t know the truth (because she would hide it), or we’d be so unnerved by her admissions that we would have no sympathy for her. Faulkner crafted wisely so our empathy could remain intact.

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Kristy Wooten eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The narrator is not judgmental towards Miss Emily, which is essential to the meaning of this story.  While the narrator does report what OTHERS say about Miss Emily, he does not pass judgment on her.  He reserves that for the reader to do.  By using this narrator, Faulkner is able to evoke sympathy for Miss Emily.

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luvnie92 | Student

what a bout the the protoganist of emily in part 4?

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