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Communities normally yield an exclusively physical connection that may not cause any emotional impact. American modernist William Faulkner incisively outlines this situation one of his short stories, in which the protagonist is continuously alienated by the fellow members of her town’s society. Within that story, “A Rose for Emily,” point of view and specific motifs are used to convey his meaning of distancing one individual, Miss Emily, from a well-defined group, the citizens of Jefferson.
Upon reading “A Rose for Emily,” one will take note of the fact that the point of view is in the uncommon first person plural, which Faulkner utilizes to dissociate Miss Emily from the other townspeople. After Homer Barron, the man Miss Emily is frequently seen with and that the citizens predict she will marry, moves in with her, the people of Jefferson take careful note as always. The narrator explains that “she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments” (161-162). The narrator is depicted as “we” rather than the more typical “I” or simply a character’s name. The “we” can be classified as the citizens of Jefferson, where the short story is set. This categorization is used to divide and separate Emily from the exclusive group. Also, when conveying to the reader that the citizens “sat back to watch,” Faulkner chooses diction that portrays them as visitors to a museum or as an audience being entertained by a performer, one that the reader can determine is most likely unwilling. Faulkner’s decision to use first person plural as the narrative voice for this short story suggests that the general community of Jefferson excludes Miss Emily and does not allow her to associate with them, so that she solely acts as part of the town’s gossip.
Throughout the work, Faulkner utilizes prominent motifs to incessantly describe Emily as being a static, classic, and decayed badge for the town of Jefferson to observe. To emphasize this dynamic, he manipulates expressive words with connotations that suggest antiquated qualities. These descriptions also play a part in detaching Emily from the community. As a part of Emily’s character exposition, the narrator defines her as “a tradition… a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894” (156). This characterization implies that Emily has been a part of Jefferson for an extensive period of time, as indicated by the words “tradition” and “hereditary.” Furthermore, Faulkner’s usage of the word “dating” leads the reader to believe that Emily is simply an archaic member of the town; she is out of date and soon to be eliminated in order to further modernize Jefferson. Although the titular character is commended for the fame she has unintentionally achieved, the language in “A Rose for Emily” makes it clear that both Emily’s popularity and connection to the town are fading quickly.
The townspeople of Jefferson’s undeniable curiosity towards Miss Emily and her lifestyle draws one’s attention to the eponymous character by emphasizing that she has some kind of fascinating facet. Faulkner includes fascination as another motif in his work by depicting the citizens of Jefferson as showing superficial sympathy for Emily, when in reality they are merely engrossed in the substantial part of her life that she is hiding. After Emily’s death, the narrator remarks that the women mainly attended her funeral “out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (155). Faulkner is summarizing the fact that the women of Jefferson are replacing an action that is usually done out of respect for the deceased person with one that is selfish and contemptuous. By showing the women’s lack of sorrow after Emily’s death, Faulkner is demonstrating to the reader that Miss Emily is not fully part of this close-knit community. Thus, the reader can conclude that the female citizens of Jefferson only care about the gossip that Emily provides, rather than about her wellbeing.
Although a reader may expect a small town such as Jefferson to maintain a closely knit community, the one portrayed in this work of Faulkner’s expertly portrays quite the opposite. Emily’s alienated presence in Jefferson leaves the impression on the reader that she is separated from the community because of her archaism; however, the constant scandal that she provides to the town satisfies its people’s desire for drama. Emily is written to display how she affects, either positively or negatively, to the function of Jefferson’s community, but one can only wonder how the town behaves as a whole after Emily’s death.
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