A fascinating technique used by
William Faulkner in “A Rose for Emily” was the use of an anonymous
narrator whose role in the town and connection to Emily is a bit unclear.
Within the story, Faulkner doesn’t rely on the standard linear approach when he
acquaints his characters and their ambitions. There is a strong theme of death,
beginning and ending the story with the death of Emily Grierson. The impact of
this narrative, theme of time, and the power of death will be scrutinized
through close textual analysis.

            The reader
cannot help but notice the way in which the narrator uses the word
“we” to recount the feelings of the inhabitants of the town and their
impression of the strange Emily Grierson.  The narrator fulfills the role as the town’s
collective voice and there has been much debate over whether it is a male or
female—the boy who remembers Mr. Grierson with his whip in the doorway chasing
off potential suitors; the town gossip, spearheading the effort to break down
the door at the end; or perhaps the servant, Tobe, who would have known her
intimately including her deadly secret. Several aspects of the story support
the theory that Tobe is narrator such as Emily is being referred to as “Miss
Emily” and the fact that a single detail that described the deceased mayor,
Colonel Sartoris: the mayor enforced “the edict that no Negro woman should
appear on the streets without an apron” (299). 
Either way, the narrator conceals his identity by using the pronoun “we”
which can obscure the true thoughts of the people of the town by exacting that
everyone is thinking precisely the same way the narrator is. The mystery is further
intensified about who he is when Homer’s body is discovered. When the narrator
admits that “Already we knew” (306) that a bedroom upstairs had been secured
shut, we never find out how he could even know about the room. This is about
the point in the story where the narrator switches from using “we” to using
“they.” “Already we knew there was one room…They waited until Miss Emily was
decently in the ground before they opened it” (306). Up until this point, the
narrator has been affiliated with the rest of the town, even agreeing with the
community’s measures, thoughts, and considerations. However, the narrator has
removed himself from the action of breaking into the room as if it was
something he could not bring himself to do. There is a subtle shift in wording
back to using the collective word “we” in the following text, but it helps give
further evidence that the narrator was a person who cared for Emily, despite
her mental illness and horrible act of killing her lover.

            The story “A
Rose for Emily” does not follow the standard linear approach to the
introduction of the characters’ existence and drive. It is fractured, it shifts
and distorts time, extending the story over many decades. There are a series of
recollections that help the reader learn about Miss Emily. The story begins at
Emily’s funeral before the audience learns of the sealed door upstairs. Then we
see her as a young girl with her father, whip in hand, chasing off potential
sweethearts. Next, she is an old woman who has young girls over to her house
for a period of time to paint china. Finally, as her grip on reality weakens
over the years, she dies at the age of seventy-four. These flashbacks are rough
in form where in Parts I and II, we are thrown deep into Emily’s past, and
Parts III and IV where almost immediately we go from young Emily to her death.
We start the story at the end of Emily’s life, then we go backward into 1894 to
recount the fact that Colonel Sartoris has remitted her taxes. Then we are fast
forwarded to the new generation who is demanding that she pay her taxes and yet
again thrust back in time to the incident of the awful odor coming from her
house. The story being told in this manner makes the structure of the story
almost fluid; events within are not linked chronologically, they organized by
feeling rather than logic.

            Death hangs
heavily over Emily’s life. The narrator mentions Emily’s death from the very
beginning of the story describing her death-haunted fate. She is described as
looking like a corpse, herself, a small, spare skeleton practically dead on her
feet. “She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and
of that pallid hue” (300). Death prevails over every attempt Emily makes to
master it, having a bizarre, necrophilic relationship with the men she loved.
Through her denial of her father’s death, clinging to him over a period of days
(to which the only reason she accepts his death is by the townspeople finally
pulling his three day old corpse from her home) to her living and sleeping next
to the corpse of her lover, Homer, (caused by her giving feeding him arsenic
because he was about to leave her due to the work of the roads being completed)
for decades. Being the one who killed him, she was able to keep him near to
her. Her attempt to fuse life and death through her distorted marriage to the
corpse was her way to hold on to the man she loved.