Jul 15, 2019 in Book Review

Book Review for the Short Story "A Rose for Emily"

One could describe the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner's as eccentric and shocking piece of writing. His story is an example of a combination of gothic and grotesque writing styles. These styles of literature are based on gloomy, frightening, and depressing tones. The Faulkner's story provokes all of these feelings through utilizing dark images of an old mansion, a corpse, and a crime. First published in 1930, "A Rose for Emily" is still widely discussed among literary critics. The figure of the narrator and the theme of chronology are two main points of arguing. I have analyzed seven scholarly articles in order to formulate my point of view on the nature of the narrator and the problem of time in the short story.

In his article, Thomas Klein (2007) supported the idea that the narrator played a significant role in the perception of Emily as a goddess. The story is told by an unidentified narrator and, what is more interesting, it could possibly be a single person, but rather a group of people living in the town and observing Miss Emily’s life. Moreover, watching her for more than fifty years suggests that these are not the same people. Alternatively, since William Faulkner mentioned neither the age, gender nor profession of the narrator, the storyteller might be the town itself. Even though Emily does not seem to be a physically attractive person, the narrator shows obsession and adores her. She is worshipped as a superior, “Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol” (Faulkner, 1995). If the narrator is in fact a group of persons, being blind to killing Homer Barron can be explained by gregariousness. Very often do people fall under social influence.

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In the article “Another View of Faulkner’s Narrator in “A Rose for Emily” (1990), Michael L. Burduck claims that the story’s narrator might be a woman. He sees some hints that might indicated that the central role of the narrator is played a woman. Only a woman could be so concerned with every aspect of Miss Emily's life. An essential clue is given to the readers when there is a description of people’s reaction to Emily's affection toward Homer Barron, ‘‘the men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister to call upon her’’ (Faulkner, 1995). Men seem to be rather indifferent, but women are so anxious about Emily's eccentricities that they compel their husbands to take action. Perhaps, one of them was interested enough to remember this story and thus became its narrator. Besides, only a female narrator could understand what forced Emily to kill her beloved man. The narrator knows that Emily bought a poison for killing ‘‘rats.’’ A possible slang meaning of the word “rat” is a betrayer. Only a woman can be empathic enough to understand the feelings of being cheated on and lied to. Overall, there can be two reasons for a woman to tell Emily’s life story. The first one is to show that the main character is not a typical southern woman, and that decent women, perhaps like a narrator , still exist. The second reason is the narrator’s apparent sympathy for the woman who was unfortunate enough to be lonely and unhappy. The new interpretation of the female narrator gives a unique perspective on the role of women in fiction.

Isaac Rodman (1993) focused on the role of the narrator as of a representative of the community. Throughout the story, the anonymous storyteller uses collective pronouns in his/her speech. From that, we see that he/she spoke for the whole town but at the same time refrained from giving utterance to his/her personal opinion regarding Miss Emily’s life. According to Rodman, the speaker was an isolated and a lonely person, just as Emily herself. That was a possible reason to retell the life of Emily. Moreover, the narrator’s attitude towards the main character is ambiguous. On the one hand, he/she never justifies the committed crime and shows disapproval of the murder. On the other hand, he/she expresses sympathy for Emily. Therefore, we can conclude that the narrator has found some common traits with her, and it raised a feeling of loyalty.

When mentioning the narrator, Helen Nebeker (1970) writes, "he is a kind of innocuous, simple, inert inhabitant of Jefferson, who tells the story of Miss Emily's life and death.” Therefore, she, as many other critics refers to the storyteller as to a man. She proves the gender of the narrator by giving a number of reasons. For example, the man-narrator shows his control over Emily, as a woman, by letting her speak only eight times throughout the whole story. Besides, Nebeker points out that "the truth of the Miss Emily episode lies, not in the character and motivation of Miss Emily, but in the identity of the narrator" (Nebeker, 1970). By asserting it, she meant that the main character of the Faulkner’s story is not miss Emily, but rather the narrator. If it is true, than Emily is not considered an independent person. Oppositely, she is shown to be isolated in a patriarchal town.

The following three articles touch upon a theme of chronology throughout the story. A research by Burg, Boyle and Lang (2000) implies that Faulkner does not tell the short story in a straightforward manner, but rather tends to make jumps from the past to the present and vice versa. The author does not stick to a chronological sequence of events. He describes them according to the development of the plot. At the beginning of the story, readers try to find out what has happened and when. The author provided a number of hints for depicting time. For example, nobody had seen Emily “for at least ten years” (Faulkner, 1995) before she died. So information on time is given, but in a rather vague way by using phrases such as “thirty years before,” “within two days,” “next evening” and so on. All of the parts of his idea seem to be present, but at the first sight, it is not clear how to connect them together. There are two ways for accepting time. Some consider time a “mathematical progression,” (Burg, Boyle & Lang, 2000). In this meaning, the chronology is permanent and logical. The main character of the story, on the other hand, takes time as “not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches . . .” (Faulkner, 1995). Therefore, the author gives his readers an opportunity to combine all of the mixed and missing parts. In order to have a coherent idea of "A Rose for Emily", a reader should read the story to the end and then organize the depicted events in his mind.

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Moore’s article “Of Time and Its Mathematical Progression: Problems of Chronology in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" (1992) concerns the chronology of the story as well. He says that most people got used to thinking of life in a linear way. In other words, we are living on Monday and only after that do we live on Tuesday. We cannot change this order in real life. Nevertheless, it is possible to remember actions, events, and their courses out of the chronological sequence. Faulkner succeeded in scattering events around the plot. In this way, he delayed the comprehension of the depicted events, and kept his readers thus tensed and absorbed the story. Actually, most of the events that happened at the end of Emily’s life were mentioned at the beginning of the story. Vague mentions of time served as bridges for connecting and understanding all of the events. The only exact date that is given to the readers (1894) helps to define the timeframe of Emily’s life. Considering all other time clues, it is possible to find out in what years the story happened.

According to Byrne (2008), “A Rose for Emily” does not rely on conventional and linear methodology for presenting the lives of the characters and the events in the story. As an alternative, Faulkner breaks, changes, and controls time, extending the story over decades. A reader finds out about Emily’s life through a chain of flashbacks. The story about Emily’s life starts with her funeral and then moves towards the past. By changing the arrow of time in the story, the author depicts the coexistence of the past and the present. It shows their influence and consequences of the events. Faulkner generates a composite and layered reality. Two visions of time are shown in “A Rose for Emily”. One is grounded on a “mathematical precision” (Byrne, 2008). Here time moves forward no matter what, and only momentary experiences exist. The second vision is more individual and subjective. Emily lived at this time. Being physically in the present, she was mentally in the past. It did not matter to her how much time has passed or what things have changed. She lived in her own timeframe, remembering past events and dreaming about them over again.

As for me, I agree with Michael L. Burduck, who in the article “Another View of Faulkner’s Narrator in “A Rose for Emily” (1990) depicted a narrator of the story as a woman. The already eccentric Faulkner’s short story becomes even more unusual if we imagine that two main characters are actually women. It is typical for a woman to gossip, share information and discuss events. And it is what the storyteller actually does. She has a two-sided attitude towards Emily. On the one hand, she disapproves of her behavior and relationship before marriage. On the other hand, she expresses sympathy for the woman who appeared to be quite lonely and unhappy. Thomas Klein’s (2007) view of the narrator’s figure too common in my opinion. He sees the storyteller as a town itself or at least as a group of citizens. These people are obsessed with Emily and at the same time she frightens them. Isaac Rodman (1993) depicted the narrator as an isolated and lonely person. He compared the speaker to Miss Emily, guessing that their similarities forced the narrator to tell this story. Helen Nebeker (1970) insists on the image of a man as a narrator. Besides, she thinks that not Emily, but the narrator himself is the main character. He controls the plot of the story and provides his own sequence of events.

All the articles that concern the problem of chronology (Burg, Boyle & Lang, 2000; Moore, 1992; Byrne, 2008) have agreed that William Faulkner's short story “A Rose for Emily” is not based on a linear way of presenting the events. Burg, Boyle and Lang (2000) suppose that the author describes the events according to their relative importance. Moore (1992) suggests that such chronological order is not possible in real life, but is quite feasible in our minds. He thinks that the time clues that the author left in the text demonstrate not only the duration of the story but the exact years as well. Byrne (2008) believes that Faulkner built his layered reality, in which he mixed the past with the present.

Conclusion

To summarize all of the discussed points, I would say that “A Rose for Emily” provokes a lot of points worthy of reflecting. Every reader has an opportunity to imagine who the narrator of the story actually is as well as to find the reasons for Emily’s actions and to follow the extraordinary chronology of events. The ideas and thoughts might be different, but the impression from the story will be enormous nonetheless.

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