"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner is a masterful short story. The element that makes the story a little more difficult is its fractured time frame. The story is not told in chronological order. Instead, the author divides the story into five sections and allows the narrator to fill in the parts of Emily's life.
The setting of the story is Jefferson, Mississippi after the American Civil War. The south was in transition. Before the war, the "Old South" was a more genteel time when men of the upper class protected and took care of their women. Women were not asked to deal with mundane things like taxes or household decisions. The narrator of the story is a member of the town who is able to tell the story from looking in on the major events.
Our protagonist and heroine is Miss Emily Grierson. She has been protected by her father until his death. He also prevented her from finding happiness in marriage by sending all of her suitors away. When her father died, he left Emily with nothing but the house. Everything does not go as planned for Emily. She refuses to admit that her father is dead. For three days, she does not let them take his body. The rumor was that Emily had insanity in her family, but no one wanted to admit it.
The story actually begins right after Emily dies at the age of 74. She is found by her Negro servant dead in her downstairs chair. Her cousins buried her two days later. Here is the tricky part of the story. What happens in between her father's death and Emily's death is not told in sequential order. The reader needs to read the story over and over again until he figures out what has happened.
In essence, a man comes to town from the north named Homer Baron. He has told everyone that he is a homosexual and that he will not marry. However, on Sunday, he and Emily go out for rides. The town gossips profusely about the two, thinking that Homer is making sexual advances on Emily. The minister is asked to speak to her about this. Her cousins come to visit. Then we were sure that...
They were to be married. We learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweler's and ordered a man's toilet set in silver, with the letters H. B. on each piece. Two days later we learned that she had bought a complete outfit of men's clothing, including a nightshirt...
The next odd thing that happens is that Emily buys arsenic. Homer is seen one last time going into Emily's house through the back door. Suddenly, the neighbors notice a terrible smell coming from Emily's house. Complaints are made, and the men from town spread lime around the house to kill the odor.
Nothing much is heard from Emily until many years later when the new generation of councilmen come to try to collect taxes from her. Emily listens and only remarks that Colonel Sartoris would take care of it; however, he has been dead for many years.
After Emily's funeral, the women come to the house to snoop. Tobe lets them in and disappears out the back door. They break open the door upstairs and find a man's skeleton dressed in a nightshirt. A grey hair is on the pillow beside it.
The theme of death is certainly a part of this story. Other than Emily, three other major characters die in the story. In addition, loneliness and isolation play a big part in the insanity of the main character. The town is obsessed with Emily, but she ignores the town for whatever strange reasons she has.