“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner: The Role of Point of View

In analyzing and understanding works of literature, one of the key factors is the point of view. Point of view shapes the readers’ perception of the story, basing on the attitude the narrator assumes towards the described events. There are several varieties of point of view: on the one hand, it depends on the person who is telling the story (first, second, or third-person view); on the other hand, it is determined by the level of the narrator’s awareness (omniscient or limited omniscient point of view). William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is a curious example of a first-person limited omniscient point of view, which brings the readers closer to the related events on the one hand, and demonstrates the mysterious nature of the narrator on the other hand.

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Throughout the whole story, the narration occurs from first person plural: ‘we’ is the pronoun Faulkner uses to emphasize that the events are related by an eye-witness or a whole group of eye-witnesses (28–34). This ‘we’ represents a collective image of the town society and provides an account of not only Miss Grierson’s story but the history of several epochs. The collective character of the narrator reveals itself in such phrases as “our whole town went to her funeral”, “we were not pleased exactly”, “as is our custom”, “we believed”, “we remembered”, “we knew”, etc (Faulkner 28, 30, 31). The outward authority of such statements, together with the confident predictions of this collective image concerning Miss Grierson’s private life, creates an impression of a know-all (or omniscient) narrator who is farseeing enough to provide for the future course of events. The emotionality of this collective reaction to every little occurrence in Miss Grierson’s life suggests that the pronoun ‘we’ may stand for the community of town gossips who want everything done their way and are outraged if things go out of their control.

The outward authority of the collective narrator, which should generally inspire the readers’ trust, is therefore shaken by the idea that this narrator is a mere town gossip, spreading the rumors simply for the fun of it. Therefore, the ‘omniscient narrator’s opinion of Miss Grierson’s actions as weird and non-complying is questioned by the suspicious character of the narrator as a gossip. Moreover, there are several small details in the short story that further complicate the mystery of the narrator’s personality. In the majority of ‘we’-statements, Faulkner introduces such phrases as “people “people in our town … believed”, “people were glad” (30). And here emerges a question: why should Faulkner use the word ‘people’ instead of the normal ‘we’? The obvious answer is that this is done to contrast the narrator with the rest of the crowd. Adding to this contrast is the final scene of breaking into the secret room in Miss Grierson’s house. For one thing, the narrator provides a foreshadowing by saying “Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years” (Faulkner 34) — how on earth did they know about it? In such light, the narrator appears to be someone initiated into Miss Grierson’s personal mystery. For another thing, in the scene of breaking in the narrator suddenly switches to the pronoun ‘they’: “They held the funeral on the second day,” “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground” (Faulkner 34). Although the normal ‘we’ reappears soon afterward, this sudden change of the narrator’s relationship to the town crowd cannot go unnoticed.

The mysterious first-person narrator, who outwardly seems to represent the town’s society, is intrigued by the knowledge of intimate details and casual opposition to the rest of the people. This has a crucial impact on the readers’ opinion of Miss Grierson since it suggests that she should not be taken the way gossips judge her and requires a deeper understanding as a unique and lovely personality.

“A Rose for Emily” is emblematic of the Southern Gothic genre – a unique element of American literature. The plot structure of Southern gothic writing relies heavily on irony, unusual events, or the supernatural typical of gothic writing.

Southern Gothicism however, utilizes the aforementioned tools to describe the cultural persona as well as explore social issues pertinent to the American South. Most importantly, mental/spiritual deformity as opposed to physicality – exceedingly permeates Southern gothic style in terms of characters, settings, and situations. Prevalent antebellum euphoric stereotypes such as the contented slave, the chivalrous gentlemen, the demure Southern belle, and repugnant traits such as egotistical self-righteousness, racial bigotry, etc., fading Southern Belle, are common qualities of the protagonists.

Despite these cringe-inducing traits, the characters maintain a certain level of interest to the reader. William Faulkner, a revered novelist, short-story writer, and essayist are among a cadre of prolific Southern writers (Flannery O’Connor, Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Harper Lee – to name a few) of the 20th century whose gothic works highlight disturbing aspects of Southern culture, human frailty and cruelty.

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Authoring over 120 short stories, diction, cadence, and stream of consciousness were Faulkner’s unique trademark. “A Rose for Emily” exemplifies Southern Gothicism but most importantly tragedy spurred by an unfulfilled life compounded by rejection and the absence of true love. “A Rose for Emily” is considered one of William Faulkner’s best short stories and truly substantiates why his literary legacy will forever have an indelible influence on American Literature.

References

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, Eleventh Edition X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. White Plains, NY: Longman, 2007. 28–34. Print.

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