The unnamed narrator of “A Rose for Emily” serves as the town’s collective voice. Critics have debated whether it is a man or woman; a former lover of Emily Grierson’s; the boy who remembers the sight of Mr. Grierson in the doorway, holding the whip; or the town gossip, spearheading the effort to break down the door at the end. It is possible, too, that the narrator is Emily’s former servant, Tobe—he would have known her intimately, perhaps including her secret. A few aspects of the story support this theory, such as the fact that the narrator often refers to Emily as “Miss Emily” and provides only one descriptive detail about the Colonel Sartoris, the mayor: the fact that he enforced a law requiring that black women wear aprons in public. In any case, the narrator hides behind the collective pronoun we. By using we, the narrator can attribute what might be his or her own thoughts and opinions to all of the townspeople, turning private ideas into commonly held beliefs.
The narrator deepens the mystery of who he is and how much he knows at the end of the story, when the townspeople discover Homer’s body. The narrator confesses “Already we knew” that an upstairs bedroom had been sealed up. However, we never find out how the narrator knows about the room. More important, at this point, for the first time in the story, the narrator uses the pronoun “they” instead of “we” to refer to the townspeople. First, he says, “Already we knew that there was one room. . . .” Then he changes to, “They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.” This is a significant shift. Until now, the narrator has willingly grouped himself with the rest of the townspeople, accepting the community’s actions, thoughts, and speculations as his own. Here, however, the narrator distances himself from the action, as though the breaking down of the door is something he can’t bring himself to endorse. The shift is quick and subtle, and he returns to “we” in the passages that follow, but it gives us an important clue about the narrator’s identity. Whoever he was, the narrator cared for Emily, despite her eccentricities and horrible, desperate act. In a town that treated her as an oddity and, finally, a horror, a kind, sympathetic gesture—even one as slight as symbolically looking away when the private door is forced open—stands out.