The other educators raise very good points about the possible lessons of Faulkner's story "A Rose for Emily." Emily Grierson is the last member of a once-eminent local family. Since the death of her father, her fortunes have entered a long decline, and eventually she becomes a "hereditary obligation upon the town," which exempts her from paying taxes to help her save money and also to save face—for Miss Emily refuses to acknowledge the fact that her circumstances have changed and continues to live as she always has. She, like her house, lifts her "stubborn and coquettish decay above" the evidence of her decline all around her, "an eyesore among eyesores."
This inability to change even when necessity demands it is also apparent in Miss Emily's bizarre behavior after the death of her father. Mr. Grierson is described as a harsh, controlling figure, always in the forefront of Miss Emily's life, standing between her and the outside world, "his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door." He refused to let Miss Emily marry, on the principle that "none of the young men were good enough" for her. Consequently, by the time he died, Miss Emily was an old maid and nobody came courting her anymore. When Mr. Grierson died, the people of Jefferson came to pay their respects, but Miss Emily wouldn't let them into the house, "[telling] them that her father was not dead."
She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.
Despite the grim reality of her father's corpse, which must have been decaying rapidly in the Southern heat, Miss Emily was unwilling to accept the change to her circumstances for a full three days. The town was mildly horrified, but mostly compassionate in response to her behavior:
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Miss Emily's "clinging" to her dead father, however, presages her "clinging" to her fiance, Homer Barron. He is a Yankee day laborer, and as such is entirely unsuitable as a match for Emily Grierson, so it's a bit of a scandal that she associates with him. She, in fact, pursues Homer more than the other way around, for Homer has publicly remarked that "he [is] not a marrying man." When Miss Emily purchases arsenic from the druggist, everyone tuts, "poor Emily," and assumes she intends to kill herself in despair.
However, to everyone's surprise, Miss Emily then purchases a silver grooming set for Homer, inscribed with his initials, and "a complete outfit of men's clothing, including a nightshirt." The rumour mill reckons that Miss Emily must have married Homer, or intends to marry him very shortly. Miss Emily's cousins from Alabama arrive in Jefferson to try to break up the relationship, but she dismisses them, and shortly thereafter, Homer Barron disappears. Everyone feels sorry for Miss Emily, who has clearly been jilted just as they thought might happen.
The truth of the matter is that she has poisoned Homer with the arsenic she bought so that he can never leave her. The smell of his rotting body pervades the neighborhood for weeks, and becomes bad enough to be considered a public nuisance, but Miss Emily will not allow anyone into the house to search for the source of the smell. Furthermore, she is defended in her refusal to face reality by old Judge Stevens, who tells the Board of Aldermen that they cannot bother Miss Emily about the odor, saying,
"Dammit, sir, will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"
Eventually, the smell dissipates, although heaven knows how bad it must have been inside Miss Emily's house. It is not until Miss Emily dies that people finally discover what she has done, going into the house that she has kept locked against all outsiders for decades and finding the skeleton of Homer Barron in her bedroom, in her bed:
What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.
Having murdered Homer, Miss Emily could not part with him even in death, and arranged his body "in the attitude of an embrace." On the pillow next to his, there is "the indentation of a head" and a "long strand of iron-gray hair." Miss Emily has been sleeping with her husband's corpse every night for all these years. She could not face the reality of her father's death, still less her husband's death, even though she caused it by killing him because she could not face the reality that Homer did not wish to marry her. If there is any life lesson to be derived from this ghoulish story, it is that clinging to things—to the past, to status, to appearances, to people—is unhealthy. Life has changed since Miss Emily was a young woman, but she lives in her own little antebellum world, and she is supported in her fantasy by the leading men of Jefferson, who feel sorry for her. Anyone who challenges her concept of things is met with icy resistance: she has plenty of money, her father has not died, there is no smell. The result is that she is increasingly isolated from the world in which she lives, because she refuses to move on with it, and her terror of change leads her to commit a disgusting crime in an effort to maintain her fantasy of what life should be.
Don't be like Miss Emily.