In “A Rose For Emily,” William Faulkner imitates associative Southern storytelling style as an unnamed first-person narrator speaks for the entire town of Jefferson, relating what all the townspeople know or believe. Unlike typical Faulkner stories that employ multiple individual narrators, “A Rose for Emily” achieves the effect of multiple narrators by combining them into a single narrative voice, an unnamed (and not always consistent) narrator. First-person plural pronouns emphasize that this narrator represents the consciousness of the town. This style is similar to that used in Greek tragedy, wherein chorus and chorus leader provide the reader/audience with information, interpret the characters’ actions, and express public opinion; thus, the narrator in “A Rose for Emily,” whose age and gender are never identified, can be designated a choric character.
The narrative sequence in this story is not chronological; the reader learns Miss Emily’s history in much the same way a newcomer to Jefferson might hear about her history. As the story opens, Miss Emily apparently has just died, and the townspeople are discussing her strange and sad life. Faulkner relates various incidents in her life, but these incidents are related thematically, not chronologically. Faulkner builds suspense by imitating the southern storyteller’s style of describing people and events through situation-triggered memories; hence, the plot is associative rather than chronological.
The story’s primary theme—the destructive effects of time, most notably change and decay—is familiar to readers of Faulkner. Change is Miss Emily’s enemy, so she refuses to acknowledge it, whether that change is the death of her father, the arrival of tax bills, the decay of her house, or even the beginning of residential mail delivery. Furthermore, her attitude toward the death of her father (and later the death of Colonel Sartoris) foreshadows her attitude toward the death of Homer Barron. Because Miss Emily is associated with the passage of time (her ticking watch is concealed in her bosom—heard but never seen), one might consider her to be living outside the normal limitations of time or, perhaps, simply not existing. Thus, she appears to combine life and death in her own person.
A minor theme in the story is the social structure of the early twentieth century American South, as it is being eroded by the industrialized New South. To avoid embarrassing Miss Emily, Colonel Sartoris devises a convoluted explanation of Jefferson’s pre-Civil War debt to the Griersons, but this same man, also, had authored an edict that any African American woman appearing on Jefferson’s streets without an apron could be beaten. Likewise, to avoid appearing to give Miss Emily charity, the families of Jefferson send their young daughters to Miss Emily’s house for china-painting lessons. Most significant, though, is the change in Jefferson’s attitude toward the relationship between Miss Emily (a...
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