Using Digital Yoknapatawpha in the Classroom

Using Digital Yoknapatawpha to Explore the Many Readings of "A Rose for Emily"

Johannes Burgers

For teachers: The following activity has been designed to familiarize students with different readings of "A Rose for Emily," using the various tools available in Digital Yoknapatawpha. Each video tutorial introduces a tool, and couples this with a series of questions about "A Rose for Emily" that guide students to a particular topic. The topics all stand in tension with each other, and discourage students from using a tool to arrive at a "final" reading of this text. Instead, it encourages them to think about how different tools highlight different parts of the text, and that scholarship requires using evidence to support a particular reading. The tools and topic pairs are listed below:

  • Manuscripts — Race
  • Audio Recordings — The author and society
  • Character-Character Force Directed Graphs — Class
  • Photographs — Gender
  • Narrative Structure Analysis — Emily's psychology

Each video, question, and tool work together as a self-contained exercise, and the class can be asked to engage with the material in any number of ways. The instruction sheet below is only one of many ways this can be managed.

Instructions: You will be divided into five groups. Each group will give a presentation on "A Rose for Emily" using a specific digital tool. Below are the group assignments for each tool, and a general overview of what it does. These tools are meant to help guide your reading of "A Rose for Emily." Your presentation should answer the following four questions:

  • What tool did you use?
  • What does it do?
  • What did it tell you about "A Rose for Emily?"
  • What is your reading of the story based on the tool?

Note that this is a very short presentation format, so you will not be able to cover everything. What's more, many years later, this is a story that still puzzles readers, and you are not expected to come up with a definitive conclusion. There are no wrong answers or theories. The learning goal is for you to start thinking about how different digital technologies can provide insight into literary texts.

After the presentation, we will spend 30 minutes discussing the findings, and thinking more generally about using computers to analyze literature.

Main Hub
The main interface for "A Rose for Emily" can be found here (
Using this display, you can investigate character, locations, and events in the story.

Exercise 1: Archival Material
Overview: Digital Yoknapatawpha supplements stories with a number of archival materials. While this is not a data visualization as such, it is a technological aid that puts all of the related material at your fingertips and makes it freely available.

Early Manuscripts of "A Rose for Emily"

Possible Topics of Investigation -
What are some differences between the first drafts of the story and the final print version?
What significant part of the story does Faulkner end up cutting out?
How does Tobe's role in the story change throughout the draft?

Exercise 2: Audio Recordings
Overview: Late in his career Faulkner gave a series of lectures at the University of Virginia. These were open to the public, and were recorded. The DY website takes these recordings and groups them with specific stories. Because it is not always easy to hear or understand the Southern accents, the texts were transcribed.

Audio Recordings of Faulkner talking about "A Rose for Emily"

Possible Topics of Investigation -
How does hearing the author's voice change the way you read the story?
How does Faulkner talk about his own work?
What light does Faulkner shed on how we should read his stories?
To what extent is Faulkner concerned with the position of women in society?

Exercise 3: Character-Character Force Directed Graph
Overview: These character graphs show the "social network" of the story. Characters closer to the center have more connections, and characters on the edges have fewer connections. You can also use the faceted search above to filter out specific character types. For this exercise, contrast the difference between "Upper Class" and "Lower Class" social connections.

Character-Character Force Directed Graph

Possible Topics of Investigation -
Emily Grierson is described as being a recluse in the text, what do the various connections to Emily indicate about the actual state of affairs?
What might the graph reveal about notions of privacy in a small town?
You can filter the connections by race, class, and gender. Using the filters, look at the different social connections between different kinds of people. What kinds of characters fall outside of the social framework in the telling of Emily's tale?

Exercise 4: Photographs
Overview: Photographs provide a powerful window into the past. The Digital Yoknapatawpha site has curated a collection of photographs that are representative of the culture, topography, and social relations in northern Mississippi from which Faulkner drew much of his inspiration. None of the pictures are directly related to Faulkner, but all of them capture his world.

Photograph Collection

Oxford Town Square (Model for the town square in "A Rose for Emily")
Thompson-Chandler House (Model for the Compson place in The Sound and the Fury, but also a good approximation of Emily's place)

Possible Topics of Investigation -
How do the photographs help provide context for Emily's world?
What do you notice about how different people are represented in the photographs?
What must it have been like to be a woman at this time?
How do men and women inhabit public space differently in the pictures?
What must it have been like for Emily when she was going around the town with Homer Barron?
Who might have been looking at her and how?

Exercise 5: Narrative Structure Analysis
Overview: The narrative structure analysis dashboard creates visualizations of a text based on commonly understood components in a fictional text. The main visualization divides the text into story (the actual order of events [y-axis]) and plot (the order in which it is told [x-axis]). When an author narrates events in the order that they are told, it is said to be linear. On the graph, the lines move up at a 45-degree angle when this is the case. Faulkner, notably, does not do this with "A Rose for Emily." Note that the events appear to be all out of order, and Faulkner jumps back (down) and forward (up) in time throughout the story.

Table of Contents

  • Function Overview – (0:46)
  • Plot Structure – (2:02)
  • Narrative Status – (5:12)
  • Narrative Progression – (6:10)
  • Event Frequency by Date – (6:37)

Narrative Analysis Dashboard

Possible Topics of Investigation -
What do these graphs reveal about how the story is structured?
Why might Faulkner have structured his story in this way?
Is it simply to confuse the reader, or does is it in some way related to the content?
What is the relationship between who is telling the story and how it is told?
What do the other supplementary graphs tell you?