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"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, Negative Effect of Gossip

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Rose for Emily, William Faulkner

William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily”, about the life and death of Miss Emily Grierson, shows the negative, realistic form that gossip takes as the townspeople watch Miss Emily’s life intently only for the purpose of criticizing and judging her. Faulkner’s chosen tone and writing style of the story amplifies the truth that gossip is an inhumane and heartless trait.

The story is laid out in first person plural from the view of the town, with an unseen town member narrating. Faulkner decidedly chose this point of view to intimately show how gossips think. Only from this view could we hear their negative thoughts they have of Emily. The book is riddled with examples of how the town really didn’t care about her at all, starting from the very first paragraph when we learn of Miss Emily’s death. The narrator reports how the women of the town only went to her funeral “mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house” (287). The narrator then takes us back in time and tells us the story of Emily’s life, where we learn how the town reacts when Emily’s father dies. Of this, the town said:

“When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. 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” (289).

The people wasted no time is criticizing her and feeling satisfied that her once wealthy family was gone and she was left with nothing but the house. The narrator specifically leaves out any comments of sadness or grief the town might have felt, either to focus on their obsession with gossip or simply because they didn’t feel anything at all. Further, maybe the best example, in the most intense and revealing way, comes from the time in Emily’s life after her father’s death. Being left alone in the house and having no close relatives, the town viewed Emily as crazy and depressed. One day, she went to the pharmacist and asked for poison and very quickly the town said, “’She will kill herself’; and we said it would be the best thing” (291). From this example there can be no doubt of the towns intentions with her. They did not try to help her combat her loneliness but quickly accepted her supposed decision for suicide.

Faulkner’s choice of point of view and narrator is not the only method he uses to exemplify the negative gossip. The vague, holed explanation of Emily’s life is very consistent with how reality and gossip interact. When Emily goes to the pharmacist to ask for poison, the town is full of gossip, assuming without any proof that she will kill herself. When that never happens, the narrator never rectifies the towns assumption, but simply ignores that and moves on. When Emily’s somewhat boyfriend, Homer Barron, disappears inside her house the only line we hear from the town is “And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron” (291). There is never any real concern from the town about what is happening in Emily’s life. If they felt she might commit suicide, they didn’t help. When Homer Barron disappeared, they didn’t investigate. The town was only ever interested in the scandalous events in Emily’s life and not ever concerned about the outcomes.

Furthermore, even the order in which the story is told sensationalizes her life, turning it into a drama when really it’s a tragedy. The narrator starts out telling of Emily’s death and funeral, but goes back in time and retells her life’s story, and then finishes with the dramatic close in which the townspeople go into Emily’s house and find Homer Barron’s dead body in one of the bedrooms. The narrator starts the story with death and ends with death, focusing not on the happy, fulfilling aspects of life, but only on the dramatic.

Faulkner taught many lessons with Emily’s life, but none so clear as the cruel and heartless feeling that is gossiping. He ends this fabled story and then we are called to wonder why it is titled “A Rose for Emily” when no roses are mentioned, and especially not for Emily. She died and the town went to her funeral, not out of charity and not leaving even a single rose for her.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." McMahan, Elizabeth, et al. Literature and the Writing Process. Ninth. Pearson, 2011. 287-293. 16 06 2012.

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