Summary of a Scholarly Article
This paper by Helen Nebeker criticizes the short story by William Faulkner, ‘A Rose for Emily’. It mentions how the story fails to associate with the main problem of the narration and the focus of the story. Additionally, the failure in fully exploring the importance of the narration obscures the essential points in the story, above all is the importance of the underlying horror in the real theme of Faulkner. He has managed to keep the theme successfully hidden over the years with his deliberate ambiguity of the anonymous narrator. The truth behind the episode of Miss Emily lies not in the motivation and character of Miss Emily, but it lies in the narrator’s identity. To arrive at this identity, readers have to untangle in the deliberate ambiguity that controls the focus of the story. Once it is achieved, the implied horror associated with the story gets revealed, from this horror, a new delicate theme emerges that reveals the undeniable and stark significance of the ‘rose’ residing in the title.
Anyone who reads ‘A Rose for Emily’ can realize the vague use of pronouns in the story. In all five sections, it can be noted that there is continuous shift of person, from our to they and from they to we. This shift is further complicated with implied shift in referents for many pronouns. The words are, they and we do not have the same referents most of the tmes in the story.
In the first two sections, the ambiguity is present, but it is presented definably before the groups- the people of town inclusive in our; they of a traditional society that functions in Miss Emily’s 50s and 60s and to whom she has refused to pat tax; and the they of the earlier group. This last group would be chronologically overlapping group composing Miss Emily’s post civil war contemporaries and the older generation of pre-civil war like Colonel Sartoris. He was unable to afford a lady in need with charity and concocted a story that permitted Miss Emily for accepting charity as remitted taxes.
In the following section of the story of ‘A Rose for Emily’, Homer Barron is introduced as a northern outsider, arrogant, gross, dynamic and he is connected with the story as, the we in the story. We (Homer) saw Miss Emily post her illness as somewhat angelic and girlish with her shorter hair; “we were glad she had an interest; we believed she was fallen” (Nebeker 5). Placed aside with this we in the story is the older traditional people who knew that her grief could not measure for Miss Emily’s lapse with homer (implying in presence of available references to her insanity) and started t refer to her as ‘Poor Emily’. After that, the they of a less aristocratic and younger group who started to whisper about Homer and Emily after an older couple has set the example. Here the grouping of previously mentioned without the youngest group- Emily’s contemporaries, the Old Order, smaller and exclusive group of we.
In the next section of Faulkner’s story, apart from Miss Emily’s death every other episode in the story has been merged, introduced within a flowing and ebbing continuum of time, this serves as a structural technique important for the author’s purpose. In the initial words of this section, there is a reference to a recent occurrence, the attempt of collecting Tax from Miss Emily and shifting the same sentence referencing the smell that occurs after Homer’s disappearance and her father’s death. Then the story slips back to her father’s death and juxtaposed with a semicolon with going away of her sweetheart, referencing to Negro servant - the only retainer of Miss Emily, the consequent visits by ladies and from him to the smelling again that is accepted by the ladies as the conclusive proof that could keep the kitchen maintained.
The fourth section of this story, the merging of events and time continues. Time here telescopes between the affair between Homer and Emily. In this section the pronouns are less confusing in comparison to other sections. The whole town is aware of their affair and everyone sees Homer and Emily. Here the minority of we becomes a part of the general we, all of them side with Miss Emily against outside Griersons who, “were even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been” (Nebeker 8). After this Homer disappears, this happens after he is seen entering the kitchen door around dusk, when the front door is shut and Miss Emily doesn’t appear in the town streets for next six months. The when we see her next, she has bloated in size and grown gray; as her front door stays closed for few years until he finally opens it for giving painting lessons to her contemporaries and town children,
In the final section of this story, as they enter her house after forcing the door, we note the anticipated details of her room, almost as a camera moves from one point to another in slow speed. The room is filled with dust when the door is knocked down, the tomb smells pervades Miss Emily’s bridal room lying on the faded rose of bed curtains, the tarnished silver articles of toilet, rose shaded light and clothes of men beside skeleton of a man. “Rotting, grimacing, "cuckolded" by death (as well as by aged lovers?) lies Homer Barron” (Nebeker 10). No surprise and shock, as town people (we) view the scene, giving careful attention to every single detail of her room. After which one of them lifts a long strand of iron-gray hair that belong to Emily Rose.
Monstrous, Insidious, unforgivably corrupt, the sub-culture merges in the innocuous they of modernity and respectability. In form of her secret protectors, deliberate, sane, knowing, this group stands horribly and self-righteously between the final debacle, proffering to Emily Rose at once the victim and care of its loathsome love for Rose. Just as the we (Old South) cuckolds they (New South), triumphing on them in the moment of death, so Emily cuckolds us (old lovers) and theme of author is brought to the full circle. Here the readers are in complete knowledge of Old South that Emily, though forgiven, buried and dead leaves the horror imprinted forever in the present and on the structure.
Nebeker, H.E. "Emily's Rose of Love: Thematic Implications of Point of View in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily". The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association , 124.1 (1970): 3-13. Print. 2014.
Faulkner, W., & In Inge, M. T. (1970). A rose for Emily. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.