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In William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, first person narration is used in order to focus on Emily Grierson, a recluse who has captured the attention of the townspeople, and dictates the conversation, gossip, and action of the city. Faulkner uses a plethora of literary traits in order to help progress, convey, and develop this story. The opening sentence of the story immediately lets the reader know that “Miss Emily Grierson died.” Most of the events that follow depict her earlier life, and are directed by the reader’s knowledge of her death. This has a rather potent effect on the reader’s able to glean the pieces of her life together through the non-chronological arrangement of the story. Through this, Faulkner does not take a straight approach in presenting the story, but rather manipulates time in order to spread the story out through several decades, thus making this a story of development. The story is split into five sections, which are all a series of flashbacks. It is only after the beginning of the fifth section that the reader learns that even the first is a flashback. The effect of this is rather potent, because the reader is unable to comprehend what time period the story is being told from.
The inability to comprehend the specific time periods of each section is largely due in part to the narrator. The seemingly biased narrator is a member of the same town as Emily, deeming them as one of the gossiping community members. Faulkner is able to convey this through the repetition of words such as “we” and “our.” Because of this, Faulkner is able to create a character who is close to Emily Grierson, without dialogue. By using these keywords, the narrator is able to express their thoughts and opinions, as well as those of the townspeople. A stray from this can be seen towards the end of section five, when the narrator begins to refer to the townspeople as “they,” in reference to “the violent breaking down of the door.” This attempt at disassociation demonstrates that the narrator may not condone the actions of the townspeople, therefore giving insight to the opinions and mentality of the narrator. This subtle variation is quickly changed back to “we,” but serves as an example to make evident that the narrator showed some sort of care for Emily Grierson. The gossip that the narrator openly and actively participates in plays a large role in the progression of this story; the story itself is arguably told through gossip. Evidenced through quotes such as evidenced through the quote “we thought it would be the best thing.” In reference to the potential suicide of Emily Grierson.
Characterization also plays a major role in the development of the story. Three main people are characterized in this story. Emily Grierson is seen through the eyes of the narrator. All descriptions and facts about Miss. Grierson are one sided, and might not fully represent the actual character of Emily Grierson. The character of the narrator is revealed from subtle hints laced in the story. Such as the switch between the words “we” and “they.” Although it is easy to overlook, the townspeople are developed through the references of the narrator. Largely impacted by words such as “we” and “they.”
Although this story is rich in symbolism, the example that is most prevalent is the symbolism of the rose. In fact, it is even in the title. In this, Emily Grierson is compared to a rose, full of thorns, and trapped inside all day to wither away. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. It can be seen through the text that Miss. Grierson slowly begins to lose a grip on her sanity. Going as far as to murder her husband and sleep next to his body. This is evidenced when Faulkner writes that “we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head.” Through this, Faulkner is able to powerfully compare Emily Grierson to a rose.
The background and setting of this story play a crucial role in the progression of the story. Utilization of words such as “negro” suggest that the story takes place in the south. Faulkner’s use of this specific setting and time period successfully give the reader background to the mentality of the characters of the story. This gives insight to the motivation, actions and mindset of the people living in the town. It is quite obvious that the townspeople are fascinated with Miss Grierson, and hold her on some sort of pedestal. Although the servant is the only person in direct contact with Miss Grierson, others remain curious about her life and death. So much so that they are willing to raid her house after hearing the news of her death. The townspeople are so inclined to be apart of her life that they take special actions such as calling her cousins when Emily was considering marriage with Homer Barron. In this manner, Faulkner is able to not only progress the characterization of the townsfolk, but also assist demonstrating the impact that the setting and time period have on the story.
In order to further progress the story, and build a connection with the reader, Faulkner utilizes foreshadowing to allude to the fact that Emily Grierson had been living with a dead man. The first example of foreshadowing is presented in part two of the story, when the house begins to take a grotesque smell “a short time after her sweetheart – the one we believed would marry her – had deserted her.” Foreshadowing of Homer Barron’s death is again seen in part three, when Miss. Grierson purchases arsenic without giving a proper reason. This provides the reader with key insight to the progression of the story, and helps to develop the morbid mood of the story.
The morbid and cynical mood of this story is due largely to the fact that this story deals with death, and the development of the story revolves around the death of Emily Grierson. However, the true mood of the story is not revealed until part five of the story, when the reader learns the truth behind the disappearance of Homer Barron. The mood is mostly dark and morbid up to this point, but after “the breaking down [of] the door” and reader learns that “the man himself lay in bed.” After this revelation, the mood begins to transgress into that of a more cynical and tragic.
One of the major themes of this story is the inability of Emily Grierson to adapt and accept change. It is evidenced through her unwillingness to pay taxes that Miss Grierson is stuck in the time period that Colonel Sartoris is in charge. This is also evidenced through her refusal to have a mailbox when postal delivery is first instituted. The narrator expands on this by making the claim “thus she passed from generation to generation.” Through this, Faulkner is able to potently convey the deterioration of Miss Grierson.
With the concoction of all of these elements, William Faulkner is able to progress the story in a manner that may not be chronological, but still manages to make logical sense. The impact that this has on the reader is quite powerfully, and without these devices, Faulkner would not have been able to smoothly capture the overall impact of this story.
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