A Rose For Emily Review English Literature Essay

In his short story entitled “A Rose for Emily”, William Faulkner uses both unique and standard methods of characterization for the narrator and the protagonist Emily Grierson to develop his characters. As in all short stories there are a few flat characters. The old African American man servant who serves as Emily Grierson’s combined gardener and cook has some dark secrets, but leaves town before the reader can get his side of the story, the cousins who come to visit once in the story are female and attend Emily’s funeral; however, this is all the reader learns about them and finally Homer Barren is a foreman that came to town to pave the sidewalks. Homer serves briefly as Emily’s love interest, but as

it turns out, Homer is in Emily’s life much longer than everyone suspected. The typical narrator introduces him/herself, and, throughout the story, one may learn more and more about the narrator; however, in “A Rose for Emily” a collective “we” and “they” is used to tell Faulkner’s tale, which is unique for a narrator. “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.” (Faulkner 34-35) The narrator in this story is 3rd person limited and is apparently one of the townspeople. Young or old, male or female, black or white-the reader never finds out; however, 3rd person limited works well in this story. This makes the reader not be able to put the story down because it creates so many questions. One wants to continue reading to get to the ending to see what happens.

Though Emily Grierson is the protagonist in this short story, she is not the typical protagonist. Readers are used to getting to know characters as the author develops them. The reader may grow attached to them or despise them. The reader develops empathy, sometimes even cry for them, but in “A Rose for Emily” Faulkner has limited the character development by

what the reader is told by the narrator. This leaves several questions, and the reader wonders so many things. What the

reader does know about Miss Emily Grierson is a great deal of what she does is based on her pride. She uses the Grierson family name and reputation and an understanding with the late mayor of the town to keep running of the alderman that try to collect her past due taxes. “I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves,” she said in a dry, cold voice. (Faulkner 33) Indeed her pride is so strong and overpowering it becomes intimidating to more than just the tax collectors. It’s intimidating enough that even the town druggist breaks a law and risks his license just to get her out of his pharmacy. When she asks him for arsenic he says, “The law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for.” Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away went to get the arsenic, and wrapped it up for her. (Faulkner 36) Another townsperson, the Baptist minister, after spending an afternoon with Miss Emily, refused to ever go back again.

Even with this high sense of pride, this “well distinguished woman” lived as a recluse among dust, dirt, and decay. “It smelled of dust and disuse-a close, dank smell. When they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs.” (Faulkner 32) “Her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight.” (Faulkner 38) The reader does know Emily opened her house to young girls in the town to give china painting lessons; however, she did not do this to have visitors, but in order to have money to pay her taxes. After the young girls stopped coming due to a newer generation that was not interested in china painting, Miss Emily closed her door for good. Only her servant was seen going in and out with the market basket. As for Emily Grierson, silhouettes through her dimly lit windows were the only thing seen of her for the next ten years until her death.

Due to Faulkner’s both unique and standard methods of characterization for the narrator and protagonist there are many details the reader does not discover or surmise with any real degree of certainty until the story concludes. For example, the reader does not know what happened with the wedding plans, the reader does not know why Emily bought the arsenic, the reader never does pinpoint that smell around Emily’s house that only

the lime took away, or why she didn’t come out of her house for so long and what was going on inside that house all those years. The reader does not know the details of the negro servant taking care of her in those final days and most importantly what happened to Homer Barren. At the end of the story, even after the shocking revelation that Emily likes to preserve more than old customs, much is still left up to the imagination and the reader still has a lot of unanswered questions and wants to know the “juicy” details; however disturbing they may be.

If Faulkner had used a different type of narrator such as an all-knowing one, the story would have not had the same effect on the reader and would be forgettable. However, its Faulkner’s unique methods of characterization-specifically his use of a very limited narrator that has helped this story stand out, making it the subject of literary analysis papers in college composition classes for many decades.

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