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William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily" is framed in the past of a haunted Old South; therefore, it is from the middle sections that the reader must reconstruct the history of Emily and the changes in the attitude and perception of the townspeople as she ages.
As a young girl, Emily Grierson was part of the old aristocracy; she was privileged as the daughter of a wealthy and prestigious man. After her dominating father dies, Emily clings to the past and dismisses the aldermen who come to claim taxes as well as the ladies of the town who pay her a visit to offer their condolences. With no grief on her face, Miss Emily tells them that her father is not dead. For three days ministers and doctors call upon her; when the authorities feel they must resort to the law, Emily finally breaks down and lets her father be buried. The townspeople find her very eccentric.
A "long time" passes, then when the city contracts with a construction company to put in sidewalks, the foreman of the crew, a "Yankee," is seen with Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in a yellow-wheeled buggy. Many of the townspeople are offended by Miss Emily's having ignored her station in life as a lady of the old prestigious family. In fact, some of the ladies begin to gossip about her, saying her behavior is a disgrace, but she holds up her head when she and Homer Barron, with a cigar in his teeth, pass by. At first, the Baptist minister calls upon her; after this visit he refuses to divulge what occurred, but he makes no second visit. So, the minister's wife writes to Emily's relatives in Alabama to remind her of noblesse oblige (her obligations as one of the upper class) who come to town and pay a visit to Miss Emily.
After this visit, nothing happens; however, Miss Emily reappears at the jewelers where she has ordered a man's grooming set in silver with the letters H. B. engraved on each piece. When Homer departs, the townspeople suspect that he has gone ahead to prepare a home for Emily and him. Shortly thereafter, the cousins depart. But, before their departure, Emily purchases arsenic, claiming it is for rats. Within three days, Homer returns, but he is never seen again. Nor does Miss Emily appear for six months, during which time the townspeople complain of a foul odor about her house. When she finally emerges from her house, Miss Emily is heavy and her hair gray.
Her door remains closed to any visitors; but, after six or seven years, when she is around forty, she gives china-painting lessons. These lessons end when the "newer generation" becomes the "backbone of the town" who essentially ignore Miss Emily Grierson. The others passively watch.
Daily, monthly, yearly we watched the Negro (servant) 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....
Passing so from generation to generation, Miss Emily falls ill in the house and dies in one of the downstairs rooms. At her funeral, the old Civil War veterans dressed in their Confederate uniforms imagine that they have danced with Miss Emily in their confusion of time. After Miss Emily has been interred for "a decent amount of time," some of the townspeople enter the house and go upstairs, knowing this part of the house has been closed for years. There, to their horror, they find "the man himself" on the bed. On the other pillow they find a long steel gray hair.
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