In what sense does the narrator's telling of the story serve as "A Rose for Emily"?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Faulkner's unusual and creepy short story, "A Rose for Emily," the narrator speaks as a member of the community. He refers not to himself as "I," but uses the pronoun "we" as if he is representing the opinions and observations of the town. Roses can be symbolic of several things, and when searching for meaning with a symbol, it is not difficult to find a connection, but we cannot always know what the author's original intent was.

Sources note that the rose is symbolic of devotion or intrigue. Both of these would apply. There is a certain intrigue with regard to Miss Emily's behavior throughout the story, especially when she buys rat poison, and again when Homer Baron enters her house—never to be seen again. Emily's "devotion" to Homer is—deranged, however, and I doubt the town is devoted to Emily, though they had a healthy respect for her—a "relic" of another time.

In [Ancient] Rome...

...a wild rose on the door of a room where secret or confidential matters were discussed...

…was like a "Do Not Disturb" sign. There is definitely a great deal that goes on in secret within Emily's house—almost everything. We can assume that Emily's servant, Tobe, is keenly aware of this. When he escorts the first callers into the house after Miss Emily's death, he continues out the back door and disappears.

At funerals, a single rose is sometimes placed on the casket, and this could be a symbol of love, respect or tribute. In this case perhaps the idea of tribute is appropriate with the rose in the title and Miss Emily. She was a woman whose life was controlled so strongly by her father that she never married.

He chases away Emily’s potential suitors because none of them are ‘‘good enough’’ for his daughter.

When her father passed, Emily was left a destitute spinster, for which the town could sympathize, or more accurately for some, pity. We can infer that she languished under her father's tight rein in that after he died, she defied his memory and social conventions by riding out with the unmarried Homer Baron, a "Yankee" and someone not of her social class.

There might be tribute perhaps, too, in the sense that Emily lived her life as she chose, more like a man than a woman; e.g., in the way she defied the town's "agents" when they came to collect her taxes. On the other hand, it may be a tribute to a woman who represented an older and disappearing sense of genteel society of the Old South (although there is perhaps a hint of irony here: genteel ladies of the South did not murder a lover and save the body). She is described at one point as:

...dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.

Maybe the town should not have been surprised by Emily's murder of Baron: it had taken three days for the authorities to convince her to let them bury her father so many years before—perhaps some foreshadowing at a tinge of madness within her. After the community's initial shock in finding Baron's dead body in Emily's bed, and her "iron grey hair" on the pillow next to him, the townspeople might well have come to terms with even Emily's obsession: she was a law unto herself in a male-dominated society, and lived life as she saw fit. This, too, may have generated a need to pay some tribute to a woman who survived so many years on her own, coming from uncertain and repressive circumstances, and having the last word with all the "men in her life."

The narrator telling her story, then, acts as a tribute to Miss Emily.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent question. One way of viewing this story is as a pageant for Miss Emily and for what she represents: the values of the old South, which are seen as passing and somewhat antiquated in the new world in which Miss Emily finds herself. The narrator expresses at various stages horror, pity, curiosity but above all admiration for Miss Emily and the way that she handles the challenges of life. It is clear from the narrative that Miss Emily's life becomes a kind of personal soap opera for the townspeople, who freely gossip, wonder and debate about Miss Emily's life and what is happening to her, and the reasons for her seclusion. Note the way that this is introduced in the first paragraph of the story:

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 to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.

It is clear the way that Miss Emily's life represents something symbolically through the curiosity and interest that her death excites. The way that the narrator reports the rest of what is known about her life shows that the title of the piece suggests that it is Faulkner's tribute to Miss Emily and the decline of the values and historical context that she represents.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner, uses a third person- omniscient, objective point of view in the form of the townsfolk voices narrating the story.

This is an effective choice as literary technique because it allows the reader to experience the feeling of being part of Emily's surroundings, complete with the infusion of the town gossip, the hear-says, and the inclusion of Emily's own family history into the tale.

The use of the pronoun "we" through the narrative also allows the reader to feel a connection between the community and Emily, and vice versa, although it is known that Emily was a lonely woman who preferred to live in isolation. However, by witnessing as readers that the town knew and felt different things about Miss Emily, shows us that she was never alone, but just lonely.

Finally, the use of the townsfolk as the narrator is effective in trasmitting in depth the shock and astonishment felt when Miss Emily died, when Homer died, and when it was found out what Emily did with Homer's body. A detached, third person narrator would have not made these details as pronounced and heartfelt as did the narrative voice of the people: The point of view through which the tale was told made all the difference in the story.

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A Rose for Emily

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