In A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner uses different literary techniques to generate emotions from the writer and reader. Tone and point of view have been used to convey the narrator’s sympathy and attitude toward Emily, the protagonist. Notably, A Rose for Emily is a tragedy with a dark twist where the protagonist suffers extreme sorrow after facing certain unfavourable circumstances she fails to cope with.
The unnamed narrator, therefore, narrates Emily’s tragic story from birth to death using flashbacks, using the first person (plural) and a sympathetic tone. The narrator’s sympathetic tone and first-person point of view affect the reader’s interpretation of the story and attitude toward Emily, other characters, and the author.
The tone in literature refers to the narrator’s or author’s attitude toward characters. In A Rose for Emily, the narrator’s words set the story’s tone as he paints a picture of Emily as pitiable and struggling after her father dies. Faulkner writes, “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 (Faulkner 42).
Before her father’s death, Emily had been living a sheltered life. Emily’s lifestyle, conflict with the townspeople, and the enclosed environment depict her as isolated and make her initially appear heartless to the reader. However, her father’s death, her state of denial, her new social status, and her behavior humanize Emily, making her townspeople sympathize with her.
Additionally, as the narrator starts the story, readers learn quickly that the story is about death. In many cases, Bereavement results in sympathy for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Faulkner writes, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house… (Faulkner 40).
Starting the story with details of a death sets the sympathetic tone for the reader, especially because the audience can identify and relate to the emotions surrounding death. Therefore, even before the reader learns about Emily from the townspeople’s perspectives as the story unfolds, the narrator controls the mood with the sympathy he creates around Emily’s death.
The sympathetic tone is also evident in how the narrator presents Emily’s upbringing. Faulkner depicts her father’s parental skills as detrimental to Emily’s well-being and outcomes in adulthood. Faulkner writes, “Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door” (Faulkner 42).
The statement shows how much of a controlling parent Emily’s father was to the extent of turning down suitors he thought were not good enough for Emily. Consequently, Emily spent most of her life in isolation and failed to marry in time, which is understandably sad. Emily could not escape this control and isolation even after her father’s death because she became significantly dependent, hence explains Emily’s behavior and mental health issues after her father’s demise.
The story’s first-person plural point of view indicates that it is told by a collective narrator who assumes several perspectives simultaneously. Additionally, the narrator is all-knowing or omniscient, which helps him reveal much information based on the gossip and speculation from other characters. The point of view helps readers piece together Emily’s story and misfortune through conjecture and observation since she is majorly a topic of discussion in the town. The point of view, therefore, complements the tone in creating sympathy around Emily’s tragedy despite her shortcomings.
Conclusively, after her father’s death, Emily struggles mentally and emotionally, which places her at odds with her townspeople. While Emily can be seen as heartless as the story unfolds, the narrator utilizes a sympathetic tone to help readers understand her deranged and inhuman actions. The strategy allows readers see Emily as a struggling character and a victim of a controlling father and isolation, which attracts pity from the audience.
The narrator is omniscient and assumes several perspectives that present Emily as a victim of a closed environment and controlled lifestyle who is lost after her father’s demise leading to unending conflicts with townspeople because she does not know how to behave or relate with others in her new circumstances, hence a pitiable character.
Faulkner, William, “A Rose for Emily.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, edited by Michael Meyer and D. Quentin Miller, 12th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020, pp. 351-362.