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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," who did the townspeople blame for Miss...

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morgankeller | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted August 12, 2013 at 5:29 PM via web

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In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," who did the townspeople blame for Miss Emily's house stinking other than Miss Emily?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:08 PM (Answer #1)

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In "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner, the townspeople have a dilemma: they do not want to offend the Old Southern woman, Miss Emily, but they cannot abide the smell emanating from her house. 

Apparently because she suffered so much at her father's death (she would not let anyone take his body out of the house for three days) and because she had recently been jilted by her Northern lover, Miss Emily rarely leaves her house. The only one anyone ever sees going in or coming out is her Negro manservant. 

"Just as if a man--any man--could keep a kitchen properly," the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed. 

No one does anything about the stench at first, but the complaints begin to mount. One neighbor lady complains to the mayor, Judge Stevens, an old man of the same generation as Emily's father who understands what an insult it would be to Miss Emily if anyone mentioned such a thing to her. He dismisses the complaint, saying:

"It's probably just a snake or a rat that nigger of hers killed in the yard. I'll speak to him about it."

The complaints continue, however, and finally the Board of Aldermen are forced to do something. The men, three older and one younger, have a meeting. The younger man sees this as a simple matter of sending Miss Emily a threatening letter and telling her to get rid of the smell within a certain amount of time. 

"Dammit, sir," Judge Stevens said, "will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

The older men on the Board prevail, and a comical scene ensues. One night, after midnight, the four men slink around Miss Emily's house

like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings.... They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.

Your question is who, other than Miss Emily, the townspeople blame for the smell, and the answer is no one specifically. The townspeople just want the smell to go away. It is the mayor, Judge Stevens, who tries to offer a possible explanation for the stench: Miss Emily's Negro servant probably killed a rat or a snake and that is what is causing the smell.  

Of course, we know that it is much more than a decomposing snake or rat which is causing such a foul odor; the townspeople will not understand what it is they were smelling for another thirty years, after Miss Emily dies and they discover Homer Barron's decomposed body lying on the bed. 

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