Explain the reference to the smell in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Emily Grierson, the protagonist, in the story “A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner grew up in the Old South.  This was time when women were cared for and cherished.  The women took care of the homes, served the meals, gave birth to the children, and subjugated themselves to their husbands.  Unfortunately, for Miss Emily, her father had prevented her from finding happiness with any man.  He dominated her life until his death when she was about thirty years old.

One of the unique things about this story is the fractured time frame.  The first person narrator, who is a citizen of the town of Jefferson and has always known Emily, does not tell the story in sequential order.  His narration offers hints to the final outcome of the story.  It is up to the reader to re-read the story to figure out the chronology of Emily’s life. 

The story is told in five sections with each one supplying different information about the events of Emily’s existence.  Section II begins about two years after the death of her father.  Of course, his death was devastating since he left her penniless, with no dowry other than her house, and with no prospects for marriage.  For a man of the Old South, he had sorely neglected Emily’s future.

When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. 

Shortly after Homer Barron disappears, the neighbors begin to notice a terrible smell coming from Miss Emily’s property.  No one would dare ask a lady about something as crude as an odor pervading her property. 

The men of the town hatch a plan to solve the problem with Emily unaware of their actions.Four townsmen would go late at night when everyone should be asleep.  They would spread lime around the property to stymie the smell.

They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol.

Emily knew what they had done.  Probably, she was grateful to them because the end of the smell was the end of the talk about it.  At this point in the story, several mysteries are waiting for their solutions. The answers to the questions are found in the rest of the sections of the story. 

Another  importance bit of information comes from this section of the story.  There was insanity in Emily’s family.  Further, not everything the town thinks about Emily is positive or helpful.  The town believes that the Griersors are too arrogant and hold themselves above the rest of the town.  If  the women of the town had only taken Emily into their fold and helped her to have a happy life, the story might have ended differently.   Instead, the people chose to watch and wait to see what the next thing to happen to her was.

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