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In his examination of the story “A Rose for Emily,” Garrison (1979) presents an entirely different method of examination as compared to previous critiques of the story wherein he focuses on the way in which the narrator tells the story and the implications of the method by which it was done. Garrison (1979) presents the notion that the story is a “critique of the kind of narrative art that naively assumes the possibility of an omniscient presentation of the truth and, in that naiveté, fails to see the encroaching contours of its bias” (Garrison, 1979). In other words, the main purpose of the story was to reveal how concepts related to truth and time can never be fully understood in truly objective terms resulting in a certain degree of observational bias and error in the retelling of the story. The inherent problem though is that the argument of Jones centers around the story being a critique against the attitudes of the omniscient presentation of truth, but it ignores the setting, the characters and the society in which the events take place and as such is an inherently flawed and limited method of examination.
Garrison (1979) begins his argument by first presenting one of the initial scenes within the short story involving the death of Ms. Emily and the arrival of the various townsfolk to her house. He points out the way in which the narrator utilizes a method of external categorization to refer to the citizenry (i.e., “the men” and “the women”) while at the same time implying a certain degree of deficiency in their response to the death of Ms. Emily. Garrison (1979) mentions that the narrator’s apparent aloofness, wherein he grants himself a special status among those present, indicates a thought process that believes that he is above the deficiencies that others display. In this initial examination, the author of the article even goes so far as to mention that the various references to time that are scattered throughout certain points in the story are stated in such a way by the narrator that it shows that he is comfortably orientation in his concept of time and that he is free from making any uncertainties about his ability to recount and elaborate on what has happened within the story. Garrison (1979) states that this is indicative of the narrator’s confidence that the memories he possesses are not affected by the passage of time.
It is at this point that Garrison presents the notion that the narrator plays a more central role in the story than initially realized. It could be that the story of Ms. Emily is, in fact, a story about that narrator and what he does or does not learn throughout several points in the story until it finally culminates in the last part of the story explaining the presence of the “long strand of gray hair.” Thus, from this perspective, Garrison makes the assumption that the narrator is an individual who thinks that the way in which he tells the story is in no way different from the way other people would have said it. This point of view by the narrator, unfortunately, does not take into consideration the prolific amount of assumptions that are seen throughout the story. When looking at the ending, it becomes immediately apparent that the full story was not known to the narrator at all, with many of the assumptions made actually being false. It is based on this that Garrison (1979) presents the notion that the story is about the concept of truth and how it can and cannot be known and told through truly objective means (Garrison, 1979).
In examining the initial assumptions of Garrison (1979), it was determined that the various assumptions in the story were actually hints developed by the author to help solidify the concept that not all that is being narrated is the actual truth. For example, there were numerous assumptions made by the author regarding the smell that was present in Ms. Emily’s home, and there were even more assumptions regarding the relationship between Ms. Emily and Homer. Not only that, when examining the story in detail, but it also becomes immediately apparent that there was an insufficient explanation regarding the disappearance of Homer, which was supposedly connected to the fact that the streets were already finished. When examining the ending of the story, it becomes clear that Homer was in fact poisoned to death and that the origin of the mysterious smell was, in fact, his decaying corpse, however, when examining the narration of the narrator it does not become obvious in the least that Ms. Emily would have been capable of such actions based on the way she was portrayed. It should also be noted that there are numerous hidden details throughout the story that were never truly clarified.
These consist of the nature of the relationship between Ms. Emily and the Yankee, the reasoning behind her apparent use of poison in order to kill him, as well as the general knowledge of her Negro attendant regarding the events that happened within the house. When taking such missing details into consideration, it becomes all the more apparent that when the narrator was telling the story, there were vast inconsistencies between what was assumed and what actually happened. Garrison (1979) builds upon this by pointing out that the narrator, at times lacks a sufficient understanding of the context of the events presented (i.e. Ms. Emily buying arsenic for “rats” when it was in fact used to kill the Yankee). There was also a distinct lack of sufficient emotional connection on the part of the narrator with other characters within the story. This was evidenced by the fact that the narrator neglected to take into consideration the level of anxiety, depression and loneliness that Ms. Emily apparently felt during her time alone. There was no elaboration on the effects of not being able to connect with her other family members due to an old grudge and it was also not mentioned how incredibly lonely it must have been to be all alone within her home with no one to talk to, no one to love her and no one to care for her. It is these and other such details that Garrison (1979) explains is missing from the main bulk of the story which further solidifies his argument that the story is a means for the author to display how concepts related to truth and time can never be fully understood in truly objective terms resulting in a certain degree of observational bias and error in the retelling of the story.
What Garrison fails to take into consideration though is that the narrator could just be that, merely a narrator, with the main purpose of the story actually being related to the concept of honor, pride and the perception of society being similar to a prison of iron bars and stone walls which traps people into a particular way of acting which in effect makes them lose their freedom. Ms. Emily’s loss of freedom can be characterized by her pride, her heritage and the image of being the last of the Grierson’s within their town as being aspects of her as a person. As it can be seen within the story, Ms. Emily can be described as aloof, prideful, haughty and considering herself far above others within the town. Such an attitude alienated her from making friends with the other women within the town. Not only that, it eliminated the possibility of suitors from successfully wooing her. Even when her father’s death left her nothing but the house she lived in she still continued to maintain the attitude of superiority that isolated her from others within her area. Based on the ending of the book, where it was shown that Ms. Emily had actually killed her suitor to keep him with her, it can be seen that she was a person that was desperate for love and companionship. In the end, she let her pride and the perception of the people around her act as a prison against being able to gain the love and affection she desperately craved.
Evidence of this can be seen in this part of the story: “the body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace”. When reading this part of the story it becomes immediately obvious that Ms. Emily continued to lie with this corpse even till her dying days. This was due to the way in which she let her pride and her arrogance prevent those she considered “inferior” from associating with her which in the end left her alone and depressed. This can actually be considered one of the themes of the story “A Rose for Emily” where the author attempts to show the effects of letting one’s pride and the perception of others dictate your actions. It must also be noted that the setting itself was during the era after the civil war wherein the perception of others played a crucial role in societal interaction. This supports the assumption that the themes and events indicated within the story are a lesson related to how the views of others and our desire to live up to those views at times creates a prison to trap us into a particular way of interacting and dealing with others as well as living our own life.
While the argument of Garrison is quite interesting, it delves into a concept that fails to take into consideration the other elements of the story such as the characters, the society at the time and the setting itself. The argument of Jones centers around the story being a critique against the attitudes of the omniscient presentation of truth, but its sheer lack of sufficient examination and its focus on the narrator makes it an inherently flawed and limited method of examination.
Garrison Jr., J. M. (1979). ‘Bought flowers’ in ‘a rose for Emily’. Studies In Short Fiction, 16(4), 341.