14 September 2008
Use of Point of View in “A Rose for Emily”
In his short story, “A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner intends to convey a message to his audience about the unwillingness in human nature to accept change and more specifically the secretive tendencies of aristocrats in the South during the early 20th century. In order to do this, Faulkner sets up a story in which he isolates and old aristocratic woman, Miss Emily, from her fellow townspeople and proceeds to juxtapose her lifestyle with theirs. In doing this he demonstrates her stubborn refusal to change along with the town, but also Among several literary devices the author employs to achieve this contrast, Faulkner sets up his narrator as a seemingly reliable, impartial and knowledgeable member of the community in which Miss Emily lives by using a first person plural, partially omniscient point of view. The narrator is present for all of the scenes that take place in the story, but does not play any role in the events, and speaks for the town as a whole.
Faulkner immediately sets up his narrator as a member of the community in the first line of the story, saying that when Miss Emily died “our whole town went to her funeral.” Although it’s never directly explained, it appears as though the narrator is an older member of the town. This is demonstrated in statements like “the next generation, with its more modern ideas;” because the narrator does not say “with our more modern ideas” he makes it clear that he is not one of the younger members of the community. Never referring to himself as “I,” the narrator builds up an army behind his ideas, along the same strain of thought that there is strength in numbers; his opinions seem true, as they are the widely accepted as fact.
The use of an older member of the community as a narrator allows Faulkner to employ flashbacks to explain Miss Emily’s life, as his narrator was there to witness them himself and can be trusted to explain them correctly. The background information is crucial not only to the plot but to understanding how the townspeople perceived Miss Emily and how this perception evolved over time; the residents of Jefferson went from idolizing her to feeling “really sorry for her” to being happy for her. A few of the only times, however, that the narrator uses “they” instead of “we” is when talking about how the community gossiped about Miss Emily; for the most part, the narrator seems neutral or even slightly sympathetic toward her, and never passes judgment on her life or her mistakes. Also, because he is older, like Miss Emily, and is not totally unwilling to accept social changes, Faulkner contrasts Miss Emily directly with the narrator.
The author immediately begins to isolate Miss Emily from the rest of the town upon describing her house; she is clearly wealthier than many of the current residents of Jefferson, and appears to be the only member of town who has not yet conformed to a more modern living arrangement. The imagery the narrator uses to describe how the they viewed Miss Emily’s home evokes images of old, almost Gothic decor in the reader-phrases like “dank,” “heavy, leather-covered furniture,” and “gilt tarnished easel.” The depiction of her home is clearly symbolic of her “old world” mindset. The narrator then takes her public image one step further by explain how Miss Emily is a “hereditary obligation upon the town;” not only is Miss Emily put on a symbolic pedestal by the townspeople, but it becomes clear that she is gingerly dealt with and never bothered, further isolating her from the community because of her family’s wealth and social status.
Because Faulkner chooses to limit his narrator’s omniscience, he is able to tell the story as a mystery; this is both logical, as the story is told post-mortem and therefore could not be told from the main character’s point of view, but it also adds drama and suspense to the story. The reader is never enlightened to Miss Emily’s thoughts or feelings, and therefore is subject to believing anything the narrator says. Only at the end are Miss Emily’s secrets revealed, all at once, adding gravity and evoking feelings of shock in the reader, dramatizing and exaggerating her secretive tendencies.
Much of Faulkner’s writing deals with the social customs and habits of Southern aristocracy; in “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner uses Miss Emily as a symbol of Southern aristocrats as a whole. Miss Emily is clearly completely isolated from the town because of her habits and lifestyle choices. By using his narrator to represent the rest of the town, Faulkner easily isolates Miss Emily from everyone else; in doing this, Faulkner demonstrates the chasms in lifestyles of working people and aristocrats. Only once Miss Emily dies do her traditions die with her, symbolic of any generation and the changes that must take place for the newer generation. Because Miss Emily has so many skeletons in her closet (metaphorically) it demonstrates Faulkner’s contempt for the secretive, above-the-law attitude of arrogant upper-class citizens.
The narrator has more information about Miss Emily, her father and the town that the main character would ever reveal to the reader.
When a main character is the narrator, the story is told from a particular perspective, in this case, we would probably be even more sympathetic towards Emily than we are through the narrator's version.
We certainly would get to know Miss Emily's heart better. The story does not give us insight into her thinking, only that we assume she murdered Homer Barron so that he would never leave her. We don't get to hear Emily's thoughts through the narrator, that would be a nice touch.
But the essence of horror would be minimized if Miss Emily told the story, we would see the whole experience through her eyes, she would probably rationalize her behavior.
The point of view of a story is the most important decision a writer makes. It determines which story is told. Emily's version of the events would be quite different from someone else's version. Any person in the town would tell the story from his own experiences with Emily and his own attitudes toward her. By choosing a narrator who is not a part of the town, Faulker is able to achieve several things.
He can characterize the town in addition to developing Emily's character. The town itself becomes a character in the story. This says a lot about the nature of the small Southern town as Faulkner saw it: not a collection of independent individuals, but as a unified force of culture and tradition (group think).
By using the objective narrator, Faulkner is able to maintain the suspense of the story. The reader doesn't learn the story all at once because the narrator did not learn it that way.
Faulkner's narrator tells the story in a disjointed way, not in chronological order. He gives the reader clues, out of order. As the reader starts putting the clues together, a growing sense of horror develops.
Finally, Faulkner's narrator, as an outsider, is nonjudgmental. This makes it possible to preserve the possibility that the reader can develop some sympathy for Emily, despite her terrible act.