A short time after her "sweetheart" departs, the neighbors of Emily Grierson complain of a putrid smell.
After Homer Barron is no longer seen, Miss Emily again becomes reclusive and only the "Negro man" is seen as he enters and departs the Grierson home. When a woman complains to eighty-year-old Judge Stevens about the smell, the old southern gentleman replies,"But what would you have me do about it, madam?"
Later, when a young alderman broaches the subject again, the judge blusters, "Dammit, sir...will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"
The judge's reactions demonstrate a Southern gentleman's deference to Miss Emily's social position. Earlier in the story, the narrators declare Emily Grierson "a tradition, a duty, and a care." So, this incident seems to illustrate the characterization of Emily as previously described.
In contrast to the reaction of the judge, the neighbors take upon themselves the dilemma of the malodorous house: late one night, four men cross the lawn of the Grierson home and one of them seems to sow seeds that appear to be powdered lime. The men go so far as to break open the cellar door and sprinkle there.
As they recross the lawn, the men notice a light in a window which had been dark. Now it is lighted, and Miss Emily is seated with this light behind her and "her upright torso motionless as that of an idol." The men sneak quietly across the lawn and into the shadows. After a week or two, the smell is no longer detected.