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.
In Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily," Miss Emily's neighbors become increasingly concerned about a number of Miss Emily's bizarre lifestyle choices. For example, the neighbors become increasingly aware that Miss Emily is strange when she attempts to prevent the townspeople from removing her dead father's body from their home. Further, people become increasingly aware that Miss Emily is evolving into a strange character when she becomes more and more reclusive, refusing to interact with her neighbors in any way and spending most of her time with a male servant. However, neighbors become most concerned with Miss Emily when her home starts to emit a strange stench. The odor becomes so strong as to alarm the townspeople and they come together to have a meeting regarding the smell. None of the community members are comfortable confronting Miss Emily about the strange smell; instead the men of the town creep into her yard and spread lye around the outside to rid the town of the smell. This strange scent is representative of Miss Emily's inability to fit into the town any longer. Moreover, because Miss Emily serves as a symbol of resistance to social change in the story, this grotesque and eerie element surrounding Miss Emily is suggestive of the moral decay that occurs when one is obstinate to social change.