There are some stories that will never go out of fashion, because they focus on timeless themes and larger-than-life characters. William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily invites numerous interpretations, which more often than not revolve around the protagonist, Miss Emily Grierson, who is trapped by society in which she lives. The collective narrative voice is the antagonist of the story and causes the downfall of Miss Emily. Faulkner skillfully uses the unique narrative point of view to create a sense of closeness between his characters and readers, as well as to underscore the vices and virtues of human beings in general.
For many decades, the readers together with the acclaimed critics try to find out who the narrator is. It seems more like a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. Taking into account the time perspective, when the short story was written, and patriarchal way of life that dominated in the society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is easy to assume that what Faulkner calls “we” is, in fact, sympathetic men, who recount the story of one unfortunate woman. However, the beginning refutes this assumption: “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” (1). Indeed, numerous voices are heard throughout the course of the narration, as if trying to present the most objective account of Miss Emily’s tragedy. Older people, who still remember Miss Emily’s family, her contemporaries, and younger generation chime in with their different opinions about what happened to Miss Emily, giving the readers a splendid chance to arrive at their own conclusions. The townspeople’s close attention to Miss Emily’s life is accounted for the tragic outcome. While reading the story, you inevitably become a person from the crowd, listening to the gossip and trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Faulkner involves the readers most fully into the fate of his protagonist, encouraging us to look for explanations and underlying reasons and compare them with the present day reality.
The collective narrator sympathizes with Miss Emily, never condemning her actions, but, on the contrary, justifying them. The whole city seems to admire her refusal to pay taxes. Some townspeople are humored by Miss Emily’s aristocratic bearing, as she drives away the representatives of the city council or buys poison. Many view her as a haughty woman, who does not want to be distracted by matters of little importance and associate with common people. The narrator complains that “she carried her head high enough – even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness” (1). Miss Emily’s weirdness is just the desire to distance from the vulgar and teeming crowd. She is a loner, because she lives by her own standards, …
Posted by: Kathi Berman