What is the point of view in William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily"?  

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point-of-view in "A Rose for Emily" is provided by a third-person narrator.  In many works, a third-person narrator is considered objective because the narrator is not able to see into any character's mind, and so the narrator knows nothing about the thoughts or feelings of any character in the work and can only report what the narrator sees.  In the case of this narrator, however, the narrator becomes a character in the story, and as such, is cannot be objective because the narrator-as-character actually takes action in the story.

From the first sentence of the story, the narrator becomes a character:

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 . . .

In addition to being the narrator, however, the voice of the town becomes a character because the "whole town" renders a moral judgment on Miss Emily--it regards her as a "fallen monument," a concept that Faulkner explores throughout the story.

Throughout the story, the town-as-narrator recounts the confrontations between Miss Emily and the town-as-town: the town attempts to get Miss Emily to pay her taxes and fails; the town deals with the terrible smell coming from Miss Emily's property and fixes the problem without Miss Emily's knowledge; the town objects to Miss Emily's relationship with Homer Barron and first calls in the town's minister and, after Miss Emily deals with him, calls in her cousins from Alabama, all to no avail.  Every time Miss Emily and the town cross swords, Miss Emily "vanquished them, horse and foot."

Even when Homer Barron disappears--the last the town saw of him was when he went into her back door--the town is not suspicious of what might have happened because it has no knowledge of what is going on inside Miss Emily's mind or soul.  The town's point-of-view is restricted to what it observes; unlike an omniscient third-party narrator, which can understand and report what someone thinks and feels, the town is restricted to what it can observe.  The inner workings of Miss Emily are as much of a mystery to the town as they are to us.

In the end, the town, like us, cannot even render a moral judgment on Miss Emily because it has no knowledge of her mind or soul.  When, for example, the town breaks into Miss Emily's room and finds Homer Barron's moldering corpse and the iron-gray hair beside him on the pillow, the town's only reaction is that "we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair," the same reaction we would have if confronted with such a scene.  The town, like us, is too surprised to render a moral judgment on Miss Emily--it merely recounts what it sees.

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A Rose for Emily

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