In analyzing and understanding works of literature, one of the key factors is point of view. Point of view shapes the readers’ perception of the story, basing on the attitude the narrator assumes towards the described events.
There are several varieties of point of view: on the one hand, it depends on the person who is telling the story (first, second, or third person view); on the other hand, it is determined by the level of the narrator’s awareness (omniscient or limited omniscient point of view).
William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is a curious example of first person limited omniscient point of view, which brings the readers closer to the related events on the one hand, and demonstrates the mysterious nature of the narrator on the other hand.
Throughout the whole story, the narration occurs from first person plural: ‘we’ is the pronoun Faulkner uses to emphasize that the events are related by an eye-witness, or a whole group of eye-witnesses (28–34).
This ‘we’ represents a collective image of the town society and provides an account of not only Miss Grierson’s story but the history of several epochs. The collective character of the narrator reveals itself in such phrases as “our whole town went to her funeral”, “we were not pleased exactly”, “as is our custom”, “we believed”, “we remembered”, “we knew”, etc (Faulkner 28, 30, 31).
The outward authority of such statements, together with the confident predictions of this collective image concerning Miss Grierson’s private life, creates an impression of know-all (or omniscient) narrator who is farseeing enough to provide for the future course of events.
The emotionality of this collective reaction to every little occurrence in Miss Grierson’s life suggests that the pronoun ‘we’ may stand for the community of town gossips who want everything done their way and are outraged if things go out of their control.
The outward authority of the collective narrator, which should generally inspire the readers’ trust, is therefore shaken by the idea that this narrator is a mere town gossip, spreading the rumors simply for the fun of it. Therefore, the ‘omniscient’ narrator’s opinion of Miss Grierson’s actions as of weird and noncomplying is questioned by the suspicious character of the narrator as a gossip.
Moreover, there are several small details in the short story that further complicate the mystery of the narrator’s personality. In the majority of ‘we’-statements, Faulkner introduces such phrases as “people “people in our town … believed”, “people were glad” (30). And here emerges a question: why should Faulkner use the word ‘people’ instead of the normal ‘we’? The obvious answer is that this is done to contrast the narrator with the rest of the crowd.
Adding to this contrast is the final scene of breaking into the secret room in Miss Grierson’s house. For one thing, the narrator provides a foreshadowing by saying “Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years” (Faulkner 34) — how on earth did they know about it? In such light the narrator appears to be someone initiated into Miss Grierson’s personal mystery.
For another thing, in the scene of breaking in the narrator suddenly switches to pronoun ‘they’: “They held the funeral on the second day,” “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground” (Faulkner 34). Although the normal ‘we’ reappears soon afterwards, this sudden change of the narrator’s relationship to the town crowd cannot go unnoticed.
The mysterious first person narrator, who outwardly seems to represent the town society, intrigues by the knowledge of intimate details and casual opposition to the rest of the people. This has a crucial impact on the readers’ opinion of Miss Grierson since it suggests that she should not be taken the way gossips judge her and requires a deeper understanding as a unique and lonely personality.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, 5th ed. Eds. Aurthur X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. White Plains, NY: Longman, 2007. 28–34. Print.