What is the plot of "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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Plot is the term that describes the events that take place in the story as the main character seeks to achieve a goal or resolve a conflict. The plot in a short story is normally defined by a story arc that leads from the exposition, inciting incident, and rising action to the climax, which is followed by the falling action and resolution.

Readers of "A Rose for Emily" will have a hard time discerning the plot and the story arc because of the nonlinear progression of Faulkner's writing. Faulkner divides the story into five sections, some of which contain flashbacks to previous time periods. The sequence of events is confusing, making it hard for the reader to discern how everything unfolds. Only upon reaching the surprise ending of the story is the reader able to put it all together.

If the story were written sequentially, the plot would unfold like this: Miss Emily's father dies, leaving her without an income and with only the family home for her inheritance. Miss Emily won't admit her father is dead, and only after a few days do the townspeople and her relatives succeed in having the funeral. The townspeople pity Emily, whom they once envied. Emily remains aloof from the townsfolk but begins to date a man from the North named Homer Barron. The townspeople think she will marry him, but he leaves town. When he is away, Miss Emily purchases a men's toiletry set and arsenic.

Homer Barron returns to town; people see him enter Miss Emily's home but never see him leave. There is no wedding. The aldermen respond to complaints about a strange smell around her home by spreading lime on the grounds overnight. Miss Emily gives china painting lessons to girls in town for a few years, then becomes completely reclusive again.

A new group of men become town leaders and try unsuccessfully to collect taxes from Miss Emily. Miss Emily finally passes away. Her servant, who has lived with her for decades, leaves quietly without saying anything to anyone. The townspeople go upstairs where no one has gone for decades and force open the door to the bedroom. They find the skeleton of Homer Barron in the bed with a gray hair on the pillow that suggests Miss Emily slept with the corpse even as an elderly woman.

One could debate where the climax of the story occurs. The murder would seem to be the high point of the action that resolved Miss Emily's conflict of losing Homer Barron as a husband. From the townspeople's point of view, the climax occurs when the door is opened to reveal the secret that Miss Emily kept all those years.

Faulkner's structure of the story makes it hard to follow the plot but makes the ending more shocking and impactful.

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William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is a classic short story; while the plot can be summarized in just a few words, this will not capture the feeling of the selection. The story is told in five parts, beginning with the end of the story: Miss Emily is dead.

A young woman, Miss Emily Grierson, lives with her father (her mother is dead) in the South. Both of them are what is referred to as "Old South," believing in the old-fashioned mores and customs of the era before the Civil War. Ladies and gentlemen do not discuss money or anything else which might be considered common or dirty, and ladies certainly had to have the approval of their fathers before they could marry.

Unfortunately for Miss Emily, her father never thoguht any of his daughter's suitors were good enough for her, so she never married. After her father died, Emily kept his dead body with her in the house, refusing to let anyone come take him for three days.

Miss Emily lives alone in the house except for a Negro servant Tobe, but after the War she met a man from the North, a carpetbagger who came to the South to help with the reconstruction. Homer Barron and Miss Emily developed a rather scandalous relationship, but something odd happens when it appears Homer is preparing to leave Miss Emily and the South for good.

Miss Emily buys rat poison and a mirror/brush set with Homer's initials on them. Not long after that, the people in town notice a terrible smell emanating from Miss Emily's house. Because of who she is, the town council (or at least the older members of it) cannot possibly talk to her about it, so one night they sneak over and sprinkle lime around the foundation of the house.

Then years pass, rather uneventfully.

Daily, monthly, yearly we watched the Negro grow grayer and more stooped, going in and out with the market basket. Each December we sent her a tax notice, which would be returned by the post office a week later, unclaimed. Now and then we would see her in one of the downstairs windows--she had evidently shut up the top floor of the house--like the carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us, we could never tell which. Thus she passed from generation to generation--dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.

And so she died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her.

When the people enter Miss Emily's house after her death (for everyone is curious about what has been behind her closed doors for so many years), they discover a decayed corpse lying peacefully on the bed in the upstairs bedroom. It is evident that Miss Emily, at least sometimes, slept next to the remains of her former lover, Homer Barron.

I have included an eNotes link to a more detailed summary of the story in case you are interested. 

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