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

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.