Voice and narration in “A Rose for Miss Emily”

In “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, the narrative voice is quite used is quite unusual compared to any other fictional work, “… the story’s complex chronology and the unusual voice of the narrator…” (page 411). Lawrence R. Rodgers opinion on the voice: “I would like to suggest that he was thinking of, and wanted readers to recall, the gossipy, first-person style of society columnists” (page 412). In this essay the narrative voice will be determined in Faulkner’s story and more importantly how it conveys the tensions between Miss Emily and the residents of the town.

The Story

The story starts off with Miss Emily’s death and how the town reacts to the news. The first sentence is interesting as it suggests that the narrator could be one of the townspeople: “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went” (page 391) using the possessive plural pronoun our but still not identifying itself as either female or male. This theme of a plural narrative voice is followed throughout the story as seen on page 393: “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that” using the plural pronoun we to describe how the townspeople think of her. While this first-person plural narrative mode seems to be the standard throughout the story the narrator has the ability to distinguish itself from certain people in the town: “At first we were glad that Miss Emily […] But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could…” (page 394). A reason for this could be that while the narrator distinguish itself at first with some of the townspeople it then later on starts sharing the same opinion: “It is as if all points of view were given over to this creeping “we,”” (page 412).

Tensions and traditions

The tensions described in this story are because of the class difference between Miss Emily and the townspeople. Miss Emily descends from a proud family as seen on page 391: “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care;…” which seems to be the general consensus of the townspeople. Her house was the only remaining house from the older days and also set in one of the most select streets in their town: “only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps” (page 391). The tension portrayed could be seen as an upper class woman and how the rest of the townspeople compare themselves to her. The collective we is used to describe what the majority of the townspeople think of her. When her father dies they seem happy since now also she could be put in their shoes: “At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized.” (page 393)

The death of her father

Despite of her father’s death and the gossip around her, she decides to hold her head high: “She carried her head high enough-even when we believed that she was fallen.” (page 394) this suggests that she was aware of the fact that people was talking behind her back. She starts to act more rudely to the people around her and isolate herself further from the townspeople. In the section where she buys poison she interrupts the storekeeper and tries to keep the conversation as short as possible: “The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag.” (page 394). Even the next day, gossip had spread about her purchase and the townspeople seemed to immediately assume that she was going to kill herself.

As she had started to alienate herself from the townspeople, Homer Barron showed up. While he was not perhaps the man her father would want her to marry he was still more suitable than the male townspeople. As she begins dating him, the ladies in the town start talking: “… some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people […] the following day the minister’s wife wrote to Miss Emily’s relations in Alabama.” (page 395). While it is not known to what extent Miss Emily knows of any gossip, this probably did not have a positive effect on the relation between Miss Emily and the townspeople.


In this essay the tension between Miss Emily and the townspeople has been examined. The narrative voice used for this story is first-person plural where the narrator seems to be one of the townspeople whereas the plural use suggests that all of the townspeople could be the narrator at certain times. This essay suggests that there are class differences between the townspeople and Miss Emily that cause the main tension in the story. A reason why she chose Homer Barron over the other men in the town could be explained simply because of the class difference and how she responded to the gossip told by everyone in the town.

~ Guest Author, Axel Hansson at @ AnimalTeeth.


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