The stories of John Updike’s “A&P” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” both make use of the first person point of view in narration but with very different and quite powerful effects that also affect other elements of the story. The ways in which these two stories play with the individual elements of a piece of fiction show just how important it is to make sure that these individual elements are all taken cared of and built-up with equal care and attention, because a problem with one element can result into a problem with the entire story; the elements must all be able to work together to support each other and to weave a tight story.
“A&P” uses the first person, non-omniscient, singular point of view (POV) narration to build rapport with the main character, Sammy [for example: “I’m in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don’t see them until they’re over by the bread; I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. ” (Updike 560)]. This connection with Sammy is a very important one because it is pretty much the driving force of the story; learning of what’s going on in a teenage boy’s head while there are half-naked girls walking about can make an interesting read.
This point of view is really what helps push the reader on along as she or he plods through the “A&P” plot. With “A Rose for Emily”, on the other hand, we are given the first person, non-omniscient, plural point of view. Obviously, because it is plural it cannot be the view of the main character, Miss Emily Grierson. Instead we seem to have the entire story narrated to us by the entire town [“When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral; for a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin” (Faulkner)].
This works to increase the mystery that surrounds Miss Emily and her house because we never really knew what she is thinking or feeling. This point of view, giving an air of mystery, again, helps push the reader on to discover what happens throughout the story. Relating with the use of the POV are the different story plots. Here, we can see a great difference between “A&P” and “A Rose for Emily” because we find that one is mainly character-driven while the other has a strong plot that keeps the readers going through the story.
It is “A&P” that is, obviously, character-driven because of its simple plot of a boy wanting to elicit the attention of some pretty girls, which is quite common. Even the events in the story and the simple chronological way that it folds are quite ordinary; it is really Sammy – his thoughts and his feelings – that make a reader interested in the story. And, even up to the ending, readers are all interested only in Sammy’s fate and no one else’s [“I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (Updike 564)].
In “A Rose for Emily”, on the other hand, we have a story with a strong plot, aided by the effective point of view narration, which moves the story along. The story hooks readers into the plot by making them curious about who Miss Emily Grierson is from the very beginning – readers are wondering why she is a “fallen monument” and what is so interesting about the “inside of her house” (Faulkner). The non-linear timeline that the story follows also strengthens the mystery of Miss Emily because the building block to her life must be pieced together slowly and with a certain amount of intuition, at first.
Now, the characters of the two stories are also very different – one is as open to us as a book laid flat-open, while the other is mystery to the very end. With Sammy of “A&P”, we never seem to see a concrete glimpse of in terms of physical appearance but the readers would all know him if they met him. The first person narration lets us in on all the things that makes Sammy think and tick with that little grocery stop. In his observation of the girls, we find a young man with a keen eye and, also, an eye for beauty.
He also shows us the ability of a good imagination when he imagines how the girls behave and how their relationships with each other must be like as when he describes the tall girl as: “a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long — you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much.
” (Updike 561) Sammy, as we can surmise, is a boy that is very much in-touch with his surroundings and his imagination. The characterization of Miss Emily, in contrast, is one that is left murky and shadowy. Because we only see her through the townspeople’s eyes, we never really see her clearly; we can only watch her through the stories, the memories, and the patchwork guesses that these observers give us.
But even from this blurry view of Miss Emily through a window, we can see how guarded and closed-off she is from her environment [as when she acted ignorant of Colonel Sartoris’ death (Faulkner)] – the total opposite of Sammy. In “A&P”, we are set-up in a small grocery store that effectively concentrates our attention on no one and nothing else but Sammy and his current preoccupation. The A&P grocery store acts as the perfect magnifying glass to help us focus on our main character and how he deals with the current situation.
“A Rose for Emily” is set-up up throughout decades of a life and in different places of the town; this manner of a setting makes for even more mystery as the reader tries to fill in all the gaps between the years that the narrators had no contact nor any knowledge of what went on in Miss Emily’s life. The vast setting diffuses the readers’ minds and it wanders across time and space, searching for a complete picture of Miss Emily Grierson.
These two stories, perhaps more different than alike, prove that good stories don’t need to follow a certain pattern to mold in order to be good; it is in the writer and the dedication to his work that makes a story count.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily. ” 16 February 2008. Fu Jen University: Department of English Language and Literature. 26 June 2009 <http://www. eng. fju. edu. tw/English_ Literature/Rose/el-text-E-Rose. htm> Updike, John. “A&P”. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature Eighth Edition. Ed.
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