In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the Board of Alderman visited Miss Emily with another complaint thirty years ago. What problem did they have?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miss Emily is the protagonist in William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily." She is a woman of the "Old South" and does not feel that she must explain herself or her actions to anyone--so she does not. Thirty years ago, the town's Board of Alderman were faced with a particularly indelicate issue: Miss Emily's house stinks.

She vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell. That was two years after her father’s death and a short time after her sweetheart—the one we believed would marry her—had deserted her. 

People complained about the smell, but handling such a matter is not easy when it comes to Miss Emily. The younger generation of townspeople think it is a simple matter of telling Miss Emily she must do something to eradicate the smell; however, the older townspeople understand that it would be rude to talk to a genteel Southern woman about smells.

“Dammit, sir,” Judge Stevens said, “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”

Even more importantly, the older people know that talking to Miss Emily would not be effective anyway. Instead, this rather comical scene happens.

So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings.

This is the height of ridiculousness, but it is the only way anyone can think of to deal with Miss Emily--avoid her. The problem they had was literally the smell; however, their bigger problem was not being able to deal with Miss Emily, a seemingly well-bred and genteel Southern woman.

Of course we later discover the cause of the smell; it was Homer Barron's decaying body. 

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A Rose for Emily

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