Narration in a Rose for Emily
“A Rose for Emily” is one of the outstanding short stories by William Faulkner that chronicles the life of the eccentric Miss Emily Grierson. The success of this short story is not only hinged on its detailed chronology but also grounded on the unique narrative point of view it leverages. Throughout the narration, the life, times, and events surrounding Miss Emily Grierson are presented through a first-person plural voice, seemingly from multiple perspectives using a collective narrator. The sensation of this narrative is also attributed to the incorporation of ethos that enhances the narrator’s credibility. In “A Rose for Emily,” the narrator leverages various aspects, including a first-person plural voice and an unbiased evaluation of the protagonist, to enhance the ethos appeal. However, incorporating the first-person plural voice in this story stifles the voices of other characters whose points of view are underrepresented.
One way the narrator establishes credibility and enhances the ethos in this short story is the use of the first-person voice in narrating the events or happenings concerning the protagonist. Throughout this story, the narrator uses the terms “we and our” interchangeably, providing an avenue for presenting multiple perspectives concerning Miss Emily Grierson and enhances the narrator’s credibility. For instance, the narrator posits, “So the next day we all said, “She will kill herself”; and we said it would be the best thing” (Faulkner 6). Particularly, using a first-person plural voice is critical in enhancing the narrator’s ethos appeal. This narration technique negates any subjectivity in the information or perception about Miss Emily Grierson presented in the story. Besides, the narrator resides in the same town as Miss Emily Grierson, thus affirming the credibility of this narrative. Essentially, the use of the first-person plural voice exemplifies indicates that the information provided by the narrator was not wholly from their perceptions about the protagonist but common knowledge to the inhabitants of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
The use of the collective narration stance in fostering the ethos in “A Rose for Emily” is evident in the phrase, “When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl” (Faulkner 5). From this phrase, it is apparent that the townsfolks were all aware of the changes in Miss Emily Grierson. Hence, whatever is presented in this account was not the narrator’s subjective views but what all people who knew the protagonist observed. The narrator affirms his narrative’s objectivity by demonstrating what happened was witnessed by the whole Jefferson community. For instance, the narrator says, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral…” (Faulkner 1). By incorporating a collective view in the narration, the narrator bolsters the credibility of the narration or the ethos by negating subjectivity in the representation of the protagonist.
Besides using a first-person plural voice, the neutral representation of Miss Emily Grierson in this story is another avenue through which the narrator’s ethos is augmented. Notably, the unbiased representation of the protagonist is enabled through a collective narrative stance that presents varied perspectives concerning Miss Emily Grierson. For example, the narrator states, “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…” (Faulkner 1). Throughout this short story, it is evident that the narrator applauds some of the attributes associated with the protagonist while at the same time condemning her negatives. The balanced presentation by the narrator, in this case, creates a scenario in which any bias concerning Miss Emily Grierson is negated, thereby enhancing the narrator’s ethos due to heightened objectivity.
The unbiased portrayal of Miss Emily Grierson is evident in various instances in this short story. For instance, the narrator seems to regard the protagonist’s ability to leverage aristocratic bearing while vanquishing city council officials who had visited her home because of taxes due. During the discourse with Miss Emily Grierson, the city council officials were persistent in demanding the protagonist to pay her taxes. However, Miss Emily Grierson dismissed these officials, as evidenced in the phrase, ” 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” (Faulkner 2). It is apparent that the narrator admired how Miss Emily Grierson leveraged her aristocratic bearing in dismissing these officials, as evidenced in the narrator’s use of the phrase “Her voice was dry and cold” (Faulkner 2). The use of this phrase points at the fact that the protagonist did not shy from showing her disregard for the city council officials due to her aristocratic bearing. Moreover, it is also evident that the narrator also appreciates the protagonist’s strong character, as evidenced when she purchased rat poison from the drug store. Although the attendant tried to persuade her not to buy arsenic, the protagonist was firm on her demands, as evidenced in the statement “I want arsenic” (Faulkner 6). Thus, the narrator appeals to ethos through the neutral depiction of the protagonist’s character.
Despite appreciating Miss Emily Grierson’s ability to leverage aristocratic bearing, the narrator also mentions her negatives. For instance, the narrator points out that Miss Emily Grierson is obsessed with Homer despite coming from a lower class (Faulkner 5). Moreover, the narrator notes that as a Grierson, the protagonist “held themselves a little too high” (Faulkner 4). The narrator’s representation of the negatives of the protagonists is also evidenced in the phrase “We were not pleased exactly but vindicated” (Faulkner 4). In context, this phrase references the townsfolk’s feelings concerning Miss Emily Grierson, who was unmarried at 30. In totality, it is apparent that the narrator intricately intertwined Miss Emily Grierson’s positive and negative attributes in the story to present a balanced representation of the protagonist and, by extension, enhance the narrator’s ethos appeal.
The flow of information in this story plays a critical role in influencing the narrator’s views on the protagonists which in turn mugs the voice of other characters. At the onset of the story, for instance, the narrative is primarily focused on the aristocratic bearing of the Griersons’. With this in mind, the narrator’s views in the first section of this narrative involve the admiration of the protagonist’s aristocratic stance. The protagonist is depicted as a high-class citizen with minimal connections to individuals or institutions considered to be lower class. From this perspective, it may be posited that the narrator believed that high-class citizens were beyond reproach and were shielded from the troubles that those in the lower classes have to contend with. This notion by the narrator is evidenced in the phrase “We had long thought of them as a tableau” — that is, as an artistic work too refined for the common, workaday world” (Faulkner 4). However, as the story progresses, the events around the protagonist, including her failure to get married and the apparent murder of his lover through poisoning, necessitated a shift in the protagonist’s view from that of admiration of Miss Emily Grierson’s aristocratic bearing to disdain. Hence, the shifting of the narrator’s views of the protagonist indicates a gap of firsthand information from other characters in the story.
Although the use of a first-person plural voice plays a critical role in establishing the ethos of the narrator, the narration from this point of view creates a scenario in which the main character’s voice Miss Emily Grierson is stifled. Essentially, the protagonist’s voice is only evident during her dismissal of the city-county officials of tax demands. With this in mind, the continuous use of collective narration subtracts Miss Emily Grierson’s voice in the story to a great extent. Besides the erasure of the protagonist’s voice, the narration style leveraged in this short story results in the underrepresentation of viewpoints from the Alabama cousins. Although these cousins are mentioned at the tail end of the story, their voice or contribution to the narrative is negated. Incorporating Miss Emily Grierson and the Alabama cousins’ viewpoints in the narration would have provided more profound insights into the troubles she faced from an informed perspective.
“A Rose for Emily” is a short story in which the narrator establishes ethos through the use of a first-person plural voice and an unbiased evaluation of the protagonist. The incorporation of first-person plural voice provides a scenario in which the narrative negates subjectivity while at the same time providing evidence to back claims. On the other hand, the narrator of this story offers a balanced representation of the attributes associated with the protagonist by pointing at her positives and never shying from presenting her negative side. Although the use of the first-person plural voice and an unbiased evaluation of the protagonist are critical in bolstering the story’s credibility, they also create a scenario in which other viewpoints are underrepresented. Essentially, the collective narration leveraged in this story stifles the protagonist’s voice and other characters, including her cousins from Alabama. Of note, the incorporation of these underrepresented viewpoints would have provided pertinent and informed insights concerning the protagonists and the events surrounding her.
Faulkner, William. A rose for Emily. Paderborn, De: Verlag F. Schöningh, 1958.