The point of view of the story is that of the townspeople of Jefferson, and consequently, Miss Emily can only be apprehended via the very limited understanding the townspeople have of this reclusive woman. She is a relic of a bygone era, respected but also pitied as her fortunes slowly decline. She does not mingle in local society, which lends her an air of cold superiority at odds with her increasingly shabby home and her own frumpy appearance. She is intensely private, which the townspeople attribute partly to her unhappy childhood in which her tyrannical father kept her effectively “locked away” from her peers and did not allow her to go out with any young men. This fact adds to the town’s pity for Miss Emily—she’s an odd person, but it’s not really her fault; she was never allowed to be a normal young woman, and by the time her father died, she was already an "old maid." She is socially and emotionally stunted, while also belonging to a once-important family, so she occupies an unusual place in the town’s heart. People are deferential to her social status while simultaneously feeling sorry for her. The few grains of information they glean about Miss Emily’s life through the years only contribute to their sorrowful portrait of the woman.
Miss Emily’s sudden relationship with Homer Barron is wholly out of keeping with the townspeople’s understanding of her, and everyone is tremendously intrigued by it. He is a working-class Yankee, the kind of man Miss Emily’s late father never would have tolerated. Throughout their courtship, Miss Emily is out and about—still odd and still private, but thrust abruptly into the social foreground of Jefferson. People are just beginning to wonder if their portrait of Miss Emily is correct when Homer disappears and Miss Emily fades once more into silence and secrecy. The narrative of the unsuitable boyfriend jilting the old maid shortly before the wedding is in keeping with the town’s sentiments about Miss Emily, and so they accept this interpretation of the facts and return to their previous ideas about Miss Emily. She becomes more reclusive, cold, and inscrutable as time wears on, but while people are still curious about her inner life, they all share a general idea about her.
The opportunity to peer into that life when Miss Emily passes away piques the town’s curiosity in a way nothing has since her long-ago courtship, and because the reader only knows what the townspeople know, the truth of Miss Emily’s character comes as a shock. Far from being a sad old maid, Miss Emily is revealed as a deranged murderer who poisoned her lover in order to keep him with her forever. Everything the townspeople thought they knew about Miss Emily must now be re-examined in light of the end of the story.