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Retrospective Narration in A Rose for Emily

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Retrospective Narration in A Rose for Emily

“Now and then we would see her in one of the downstairs windows—she had evidently shut up the top floor of the house—like the carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us, we could never tell which. Thus she passed from generation to generation—dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.” (128)

Because “A Rose for Emily” is narrated in retrospect, this description of Miss Emily’s relationship with the town possesses a kind of foreshadowing not always present in stories narrated as the action unfolds. Each word takes on added meaning given that the narrator already know about Homer Barron and the room upstairs.

Thinking back, the narrator recalls, “Now and then we would see her in one of the downstairs windows.” Likely, it only occurred to the narrator after learning about Homer Barron that Miss Emily was always in a downstairs window. In fact, earlier in the story, the narrator only says that “a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it” when the men of the won sprinkled lime around her house to kill the offensive smell that emanated from it. He does not specify where in her house the window was. Moreover, he declares that Miss Emily “had evidently shut up the top floor.” Obviously, it was only “evident” that Miss Emily had closed off the upstairs of her home after her death when the townspeople forced their way into the house, up the stairs, and into the tomb-like room where the body of Homer Barron lay.

This passage also plays with the notion of seeing and being seen, the ambiguity of watching and being watched. The narrator states, “Now and then we would see her.” He goes on to explain that whether Miss Emily was “look...

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...tate when she buys the arsenic to poison Homer Barron, nor is it her state when she refuses to let her father’s dead body be removed from the house.

Finally, “perverse” confuses the reader until she reaches the end of the story. At the point where this passage occurs, Miss Emily seems a bit odd and, perhaps, insane, but there is nothing to indicate that she is “perverse.” The narrator already knows of Miss Emily’s “perverse” actions; thus, this serves as further foreshadowing of the townspeople’s discovering Homer’s body and apparent evidence of Miss Emily sleeping with it until her death.

While a short passage, this one illustrates the nature of the story itself. The narrator tells the tale in retrospect, thus possessing knowledge that the reader does not. It is for this reason that the narrator reveals aspects of the story that foreshadow the grand finale.

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