The First-Person Plural Perspective

Authored by: Mattia Gallotti

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the Social Mind

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138827691
eBook ISBN: 9781315530178
Adobe ISBN: 9781315530161


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In A Rose for Emily (1930), William Faulkner tells the story of Emily Grierson’s life and death in the town of Jefferson. We hear about the ups and downs of her idiosyncratic relationship with the townspeople, neighbours and town leaders, about her father and first love, the oddities of a secluded life and the mysteries of a once-grandiose house. The novel is short and intense, and it captures the community’s collective memory of its most peculiar member. The story is narrated in the first-person plural; however, the reader is left with the impression that we will never know whom the relevant “we” denotes. It could be the whole of the townspeople, or perhaps a sub-group of them. Most likely, the narrator is a person speaking on behalf of all who might turn out to have been closer to Emily than anyone else. As the readers find out more and more about the secrets of the main character, what it meant and felt like for the people of Jefferson to have Emily as one of them, we also realize that the “we-s” of the story mask a complex dialectic of collective and individual perspectives. The transition is fluid and graded, and it is made vivid by subtle shifts in focus in the minds of the narrator, and of the reader too. 2

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