Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As a child, Miss Emily Grierson had been cut off from most social contact and all courtship by her father. When he dies, she refuses to acknowledge his death for three days. After the townspeople intervene and bury her father, Emily is further isolated by a mysterious illness, possibly a mental breakdown.
Homer Barron’s crew comes to town to build sidewalks, and Emily is seen with him. He tells his drinking buddies that he is not the marrying kind. The townspeople consider their relationship improper because of differences in values, social class, and regional background. Emily buys arsenic and refuses to say why. The ladies in town convince the Baptist minister to confront Emily and attempt to persuade her to break off the relationship. When he refuses to discuss their conversation or to try again to persuade Miss Emily, his wife writes to Emily’s Alabama cousins. They come to Jefferson, but the townspeople find them even more haughty and disagreeable than Miss Emily. The cousins leave town.
Emily buys a men’s silver toiletry set, and the townspeople assume marriage is imminent. Homer is seen entering the house at dusk one day, but is never seen again. Shortly afterward, complaints about the odor emanating from her house lead Jefferson’s aldermen to surreptitiously spread lime around her yard, rather than confront Emily, but they discover her openly watching them from a window of her home.
Miss Emily’s servant, Tobe,...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Although an unnamed citizen of the small town of Jefferson, in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, tells the story of the aristocratic Miss Emily Grierson in a complicated manner, shifting back and forth in time without trying to make clear transitions, the story line itself is quite simple. Miss Emily’s father dies when she is a little more than thirty, in about 1882. For three days she prevents his burial, refusing to accept his death. He had driven off all of her suitors; now she is alone, a spinster, in a large house.
In the summer after the death of her father, Miss Emily meets Homer Barron, the Yankee foreman of a crew contracted to pave the sidewalks of Jefferson. They appear on the streets in a fancy buggy, provoking gossip and resentment. Two female cousins come to town from Alabama to attempt to persuade Miss Emily to behave in a more respectable manner. Emily buys an outfit of man’s clothes and a silver toilet set. To avoid the cousins, Homer leaves town. Miss Emily buys rat poison from the druggist. The cousins leave. Homer returns; he is never seen again.
A foul odor emanates from Miss Emily’s house. After midnight, four citizens, responding to complaints made by neighbors to Judge Stevens, the mayor, stealthily spread lime around the house and in her cellar. In a week or so, the smell goes away.
In 1894, Colonel Sartoris, the mayor, remits Miss Emily’s taxes. For about six or seven years, while in her forties,...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
The story, told in five sections, opens in section one with an unnamed narrator describing the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson. (The narrator always refers to himself in collective pronouns; he is perceived as being the voice of the average citizen of the town of Jefferson.) He notes that while the men attend the funeral out of obligation, the women go primarily because no one has been inside Emily’s house for years. The narrator describes what was once a grand house ‘‘set on what had once been our most select street.’’ Emily’s origins are aristocratic, but both her house and the neighborhood it is in have deteriorated. The narrator notes that prior to her death, Emily had been ‘‘a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.’’ This is because Colonel Sartoris, the former mayor of the town, remitted Emily’s taxes dating from the death of her father “on into perpetuity.’’ Apparently, Emily’s father left her with nothing when he died. Colonel Sartoris invented a story explaining the remittance of Emily’s taxes (it is the town’s method of paying back a loan to her father) to save her from the embarrassment of accepting charity.
The narrator uses this opportunity to segue into the first of several flashbacks in the story. The first incident he describes takes place approximately a decade before Emily’s death. A new generation of politicians takes over Jefferson’s government. They are unmoved by Colonel Sartoris’s grand...
(The entire section is 1199 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis Section I
Narrator: Never named, the narrator of the story is a member of the town and has known Miss Emily much of her life. Some critics have suggested that the narrator is the town itself.
Miss Emily Grierson: The protagonist of the story, Miss Emily, as she is known and referred to by everyone, is the town matriarch.
Colonel Sartoris: In 1894, Colonel Sartoris, who was then the mayor of the town, remitted Miss Emily’s taxes, for unknown reasons, “in perpetuity.”
Tobe: A Negro “manservant” of Miss Emily’s, Tobe is the only person who has entered Miss Emily’s house for years.
“A Rose for Emily” begins with the death of Miss Emily Grierson, respectfully referred to by the nameless narrator of the story, as well as by the people of Jefferson—the town in which the story takes place—as Miss Emily. The narrator of the story tells how the whole town attended Miss Emily’s funeral—the men, out of respect for a “fallen monument,” and the women “out of curiosity to see the inside of her house.” The narrator goes on to describe Miss Emily’s “big, squarish frame house that had once been white” but had become, by the time of her death, “an eyesore among eyesores.” In the years leading up to Miss Emily’s death, only Miss Emily’s Negro manservant, whom will be later identified as Tobe, had seen the inside of the house, which had once been considered one of the nicest houses situated on one of the most select streets in the town. Over the years, however, the house had grown into disrepair, and garages and cotton gins had been built up around the street, adding to its garishness.
Miss Emily had grown to become a town legend by the time of her death. In 1894, the then mayor Colonel Sartoris remitted Miss Emily’s taxes “in perpetuity” for reasons never made clear. But over time, as a new generation of civic leaders arose, the town began to question Miss Emily’s privileged status. After the new mayor was unsuccessful in collecting taxes from her through the mail, the Board of Alderman sent a deputation to her house to meet with her. Miss Emily, “a small, fat woman in black,” met them at the door, and she told them that she had no taxes in Jefferson. “Colonel Sartoris explained it to me,” she told the group in a voice that “was dry and cold.” When the deputation continued to press...
(The entire section is 1400 words.)
Summary and Analysis Section II
Judge Stevens: Eighty-year-old Judge Stevens is approached by townspeople about the smell on Miss Emily’s property.
Old Lady Wyatt: Miss Emily’s great-aunt, Old Lady Wyatt, had become senile and was remembered by the townspeople.
Miss Emily sends the deputation away, just as she had sent a similar party away thirty years earlier when neighbors had begun to complain to the town about a “smell” that had risen from Miss Emily’s property. The smell was noticed two years after Miss Emily’s father’s death, and a short time after Miss Emily’s “sweetheart went away.”
Eighty-year-old Judge Stevens was approached by neighbors about the smell, but he didn’t want to “accuse a lady to her face” about such a problem. So instead of confronting Miss Emily directly, four men sneak onto Miss Emily's property after midnight to spread lime around her house and in her cellar. After a couple of weeks, the smell went away, and the town went along with its business as usual.
It was with the onset of the smell that the townspeople had begun to feel sorry for Miss Emily, as they recalled how Miss Emily’s great-aunt, old lady Wyatt, had gone crazy. Miss Emily had always received more than her share of attention from the town, due to her unusual status. Although a good looking, slender woman, Miss Emily was never married; for a long time, the town believed that the Griersons felt themselves superior to the rest of the town, but when Miss Emily turned thirty without being married, the townspeople realized that Miss Emily wasn’t simply turning suitors away, as they had thought, but that she was most likely not receiving any viable offers of marriage at all.
When Miss Emily’s father died, and it came out that all he had left his daughter was the house, effectively leaving her a pauper, the town was “glad” and could at last pity Miss Emily. When townspeople came to call on Miss Emily, “she met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face.” Miss Emily went on to explain to her callers that her father was not dead, and it took three full days before the minister and the doctors could persuade Miss Emily to let them dispose of her father’s body properly.
If it was not clear in the first section, it is clear by now that “A Rose for Emily”...
(The entire section is 784 words.)
Summary and Analysis Section III
Homer Barron: Miss Emily’s boyfriend who is described as a “big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face.” A Northerner, he has come south to Jefferson as a foreman helping to pave the sidewalks.
The Druggist: Miss Emily orders the local druggist to sell her arsenic, even though she refused to tell him what the poison is for.
After her father’s death, Miss Emily disappeared from public site for a long time, and when she reemerged, Jefferson had just started paving its sidewalks. Homer Barron, a “Yankee,” is a foreman for one of the crews working on the contract, and soon he would be seen by the town escorting Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons.
The townspeople began expressing pity for Miss Emily; Homer, being a Northerner, is not considered a proper match for a Southern woman such as Miss Emily. But about a year after the two started appearing in public, Miss Emily ordered arsenic from the local druggist. Despite being asked by the druggist what the poison is for, Miss Emily refuses to tell. The box has a skull and bones on it, with the caption, “For rats.”
The themes of class, race and status are prevalent throughout Faulkner’s writing, and Faulkner address those themes repeatedly in “A Rose for Emily.” The society of Jefferson is segregated by race, extremely class conscious, and extremely conscious of societal rank and status. When Miss Emily is seen in public with Homer Barron, the townspeople are abhorred on two accounts: first, that Barron is a “Yankee,” and second, that he is a “day laborer,” even if he is a foreman. A “real lady” such as Miss Emily, and a Grierson at that, should never forget her social duty, her “noblesse oblige,” by cavorting with such a person. A true Southern lady would only consider a Southern white man of similar social standing.
Nevertheless, Miss Emily spends Sundays with Barron, ignoring the whisperings of her fellow Jeffersonians. And true to her character, when Miss Emily visits the druggist to purchase some poison for reasons not yet known, she refuses to tell the druggist the purpose of the poison. And true to the townspeople’s relationship with Miss Emily, the druggist does not press the issue and gives Miss Emily what she wants.
(The entire section is 392 words.)
Summary and Analysis Section IV
Miss Emily’s Cousins: At the request of the Baptist minister’s wife, cousins from Alabama arrive and move in with Miss Emily, presumably to help her out.
After Miss Emily had requested rat poison from the druggist, the town assumed that she was planning her own suicide. The facts of her relationship with Homer Barron, a Northerner, was too great a disgrace in the town’s eyes, and suicide seemed a viable option. Although Miss Emily and Homer were seen regularly on Sunday afternoons, the town was uncertain that Miss Emily would be able to convince Barron, who admitted that he was “not a marrying man,” to marry her, and Miss Emily could not continue with such a public relationship without losing face.
The town was concerned about the example Miss Emily was setting, and it went so far as to send a Baptist minister to meet with her, but to no avail. When Miss Emily ordered a silver toilet set with Barron’s initials, along with a man’s suit, the town became convinced that the two would soon be married. Barron disappeared for three days, long enough for Miss Emily's cousins, who had been called in out of concern for Miss Emily, to leave. The town assumed that upon Barron’s return, the two would wed, but shortly after his reappearance in the town, he disappeared, never to be seen again by anyone.
Once Barron disappeared for the last time, the town saw less and less of Miss Emily, and when she did show herself again, she had grown fat and gray. Except for a period of six or seven years in her forties when she gave china-painting lessons to the children of the town, Miss Emily effectively removed herself from all public appearances and interactions. Only Tobe, Miss Emily’s manservant, was seen on his regular shopping excursions, and even he was steadily growing “grayer and more stooped.…” Although there were attempts at extracting information from Tobe, Tobe refused to answer any questions about Miss Emily, and eventually the town stopped trying. Then one day without any warning, Miss Emily died.
The “noblesse oblige” that Miss Emily has seemed to have forgotten comes around to affect the town’s—especially the “ladies’”—view of Miss Emily. After Miss Emily purchased the poison from the druggist, the town became overly preoccupied, even obsessed, with her and her...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
Summary and Analysis Section V
The Town Ladies: A contingent of women from the town are the first to arrive at Miss Emily’s following her death, and they are the last to see Tobe.
When news of Miss Emily’s death spreads, a group of ladies from the town arrives at Miss Emily’s door and is briefly greeted by Tobe, who lets them in and immediately proceeds to walk out the back door, never to be seen again. A funeral is held two days later, with several of the men wearing their newly brushed Confederate uniforms.
After Miss Emily was placed “decently in the ground,” a room above the stairs at Miss Emily’s, which has not been opened for years, is forced open. An “acrid pall as of the tomb” seemed to lie on everything in the room, including “upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured,” as well as upon a man’s suit of clothes.
And on the bed was “the man himself,” with a “profound and fleshless grin.” Although never mentioned by name, the fleshless skeleton, in the position of an endless embrace, is that of Homer Barron. Next to his head is a second pillow, with the “indentation of another head,” and on it is a “long strand of iron-gray hair.”
Until the very day of Miss Emily’s death, despite the many generations that have come and gone in the town, the town members continue to act decorously with respect to the rites of death. At Miss Emily’s death, just as they had done at her father’s, the town’s “ladies” call on the house. Tobe’s immediate departure, never to be “seen again,” offers yet another ominous hint of things yet to transpire.
The town’s preoccupation/obsession with Miss Emily is further evidenced by the fact that the town had always known that “there was a room in that region above the stairs [in Miss Emily’s house] which no one had seen in forty years.…” What other person, or what other house, in the town had ever received this much attention?
The conclusion to “A Rose for Emily” provides the story with the gothic-like twist that has been hinted at since the early stages of the story. With the conclusion, all the questions that the town had ever had over the years have been answered. What had happened to the man’s toiletry set...
(The entire section is 671 words.)