Fragmentation in “A Rose for Emily”

I’ve been posting some of the essays that I included in my senior portfolio. This particular essay was written in the spring semester of my sophomore year of college for my American literature class.

The events in “A Rose for Emily” are not told in sequential order. Instead, readers receive bits and pieces of events that occurred and have to piece together what order they happened in on their own. This creates suspense in the story and keeps readers actively thinking about the information they are being given. Readers have to piece together the events that they read in order to figure out what is happening with Emily.

The story starts out by stating that Emily, or Miss Grierson, has died. This is also the last event in the story. Right off the bat readers know that this story is focused on Emily’s death. They are not going to be surprised by the death later on in the story. However, the story goes on to recount different parts of Emily’s life before coming back to her death. Throughout the story readers are already aware that they are reading about a dead woman, even though it is not focused on again until the end of the story.

It is possible that readers will have a different response to Emily as a character if they know she is dead. Often times, people will feel more sympathy for someone after their death than they did while that person was living. “A Rose for Emily” presents Emily as an eccentric woman who is described as an “obligation” for the town as opposed to someone that people have fond feelings for. Without knowing her fate, readers might view her as a town nuisance and possibly find her an annoying person they would not want to associate with, but knowing that she is dead from the very beginning, readers may be more apt to care about Emily and feel concern, even as they find out about more unsavory aspects of her as a character.

The fragmentation of the story also provides suspense to readers. They are only being given bits and pieces of the story, and what they are getting do not flow together. This method means that readers cannot passively read through the story without thinking much about it. Instead, readers are forced to think critically about what they are reading in order to follow the events. They have to constantly be trying to figure out what order the events came in and what it all means. This keeps readers engaged in the story and more focused on what is happening.

Because of the fragmentation, readers are most likely forming predictions about the end of the story. Once they reach the conclusion, many will be surprised at what they find because they did not piece together that this ending is what the rest of the story was building up to. Not many would have expected an elderly woman to have a man’s dead body lying around her house, even if there had been an odd smell around her house. Now though readers can go back and reread in order to see all of the hints throughout the story that led to the ending. They are now encouraged to reread the story in order to place the pieces of information together even more accurately than before.

In a way it almost seems to represent Emily’s life. She was not well understood by most of the people in her town, just as the story cannot be easily understood by those who do not take the time to read it carefully. The people of the town only received bits and pieces about her, and it is these bits and pieces that readers receive through the narration of a townsperson. The fragmentation helps show how disconnected Emily was from everyone, and how she never seemed to have anyone who really understood her. Emily was a person who took time to understand, and no one in the town took the time.

“A Rose for Emily” is not a story that readers can easily skim through and expect to fully understand. The fragmentation helps show the complexity of the story of Emily’s life and leads to more careful reading. Readers are pulled in by the challenge presented to them to figure out what is going on and, after discovering that, to see how well it all fit together.

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