William Faulkner was the first to turn the eyes of America toward the South six decades after the Civil War. The war was still a sore spot for most citizens of the United States and the people of the South were still considered by many as the enemy, not just because it had left the Union, but because of the complicated rules of her society.
Faulkner allowed the rest of the country a glimpse into this world which can sometimes be macabre. His short story A Rose For Emily, published in nineteen thirty, was told in third person limited point of view. The choice of narrator for this story was essential to the story because of the fact that the narrator is an insider in the culture that was almost forgotten previous to the Modernism Period.
The narrator is a citizen of Jefferson, Mississippi in the county Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional town and county created by Faulkner that represented his own town of Oxford.
Any culture feels threatened when an outsider reveals its negative traits; therefore the narrator had to be a Southerner. When he tells the story, he uses the pronoun “we” when referring to the citizens of Jefferson.
This allows the reader to understand that the narrator speaks for the town and is familiar with the culture. It seems if the one telling the story is a man even if this is never stated. A woman would not have made the statement that the narrator does about the reason that Colonel Sartoris has remitted her taxes.
“Only a man of Colonel Sartoris’ generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.” (Faulkner) From the statement one can surmise that the narrator is a male. He remains unnamed throughout the story, yet he would have to be elderly since he not only relates the details of Miss Emily’s, the protagonist, death, but can also relate the story of her youth.
Miss Emily is of the aristocracy in Jefferson, yet the narrator is obviously not. He is probably working class because he knows her and is privileged to the information of the other citizens as well as having access to her actions when she is outside of her home. He definitely sees a line drawn between himself and the Griersons, instead, he identifies with the majority of the citizens of the town of Jefferson.
He has for years listened to the gossip of the small southern town and accepted it as truth, at times feeling sympathy and other times passing judgment on Miss Emily as well as the others. “Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less.” (Faulkner)
He feels vindicated when she is brought down to the level of the rest of the people in town, yet his heart feels for her when she is left alone when her father dies and when it seems as if Homer Baron, her lover, has abandoned her.
The fictional town Jefferson, Mississippi deep in the heart of the South shapes the narrator’s perspective of the story. While the reader will be mortified by what takes place throughout the story, the narrator accepts them as just everyday happenings. Since the narrator is a citizen, the culture does not seem strange.
Because of this the reader can understand that the way of life that is depicted is real. It really does matter what a person’s last name is and what class he/ was born into in Jefferson and other Southern towns. It was feasible that certain people could walk into a drugstore and purchase poison without being questions just two weeks later when an odor was noticed outside of her home and her lover disappeared.
The narrator would have to be familiar with this setting to not question it himself. His own reactions reveal that he expects the rest of the world to accept the ways of Jefferson and his Southern culture as normal and natural.
If Faulkner had chosen any other narrator than the average man from Jefferson the impact that the story had would not have been as incredible as it was. The reader would not have been able to bring an objective point of view to the story if he/she were clouded with the sympathy for Miss Emily telling her own story.
It is vital to the story that she is dead at the end and cannot pay legally for what she has done, therefore she could not tell her story. The fact that men and women will never truly understand the mind of the opposite sex makes a masculine narrator more objective.
A female would understand Miss Emily too well and bring judgment to her actions. The only other character that could possibly tell Miss Emily’s story would be her servant, Toby. However, he is obviously too loyal to not be shaded by her actions.
The negro met the first of the ladies at the front door and let them in, with their hushed, sibilant voices and their quick, curious glances, and then he disappeared. He walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again. (Faulkner)
He would rather leave everything that he knows than to reveal the secrets he has kept for his whole adult life. He would simply be too reserved. The narrator that was chosen is the one who could tell the story and symbolically giving Miss Emily a rose by bringing her story to the world.
Faulkner’s genius is clearly at work by choosing the narrator that he did. His choice of storyteller allowed the readers to realize that there was more to Southern people than the Confederacy and that was a society with clearly drawn lines and rules that were accepted as a way of life.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. 30, April 1930 Mead School District. 29, January 2009
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