This story by William Faulkner, published in 1930, is a set of reminiscences told by an unnamed, first-person narrator; this person presents the events as if they are facts. The reader never learns this person’s identity, which works to undermine their reliability. By referring to themselves as “we” rather than "I" and using techniques such as dialogue, however, this narrator encourages the reader to believe their statements. They could be understood to be a composite narrator, a collective figure representing all the townspeople. The narrator says that the events occurred in the past, but they do not say exactly how long ago, and they do not arrange them in exact chronological sequence. The period covered extends from Emily’s childhood until her death. For all these reasons, it is challenging to identify a "plot" in the same sense as the term would apply to a realist work.
The story begins with the narrator commenting on the whole town’s having attended Miss Emily Grierson’s funeral. They next describe the Grierson home and some events in the past—as early as 1894, some years after her father’s death. One aspect of Emily's life that is emphasized is her relative financial difficulties. She had only the house, so one mayor had adjusted the tax rolls so she did not have to pay them. Assuming this arrangement would last in perpetuity, Emily refused to pay taxes even ten years after this mayor's death.
In the next section, the narrator jumps back in time to just two years after Emily's father’s death and introduces a character they refer to as her “sweetheart." The narrator notes that he “deserted her.” From this period, the narrator offers a story about a smell that emanated from Emily's house and what some men did to eliminate it. The narrator then reaches back further in time to when her father died at home; she refused for three days to let the body be released from the house.
The third section has the narrator telling about Homer Barron, a northerner who came to town and soon began to court Miss Emily. They tell of the town gossiping about her having “fallen” through this relationship. A specific incident from this period concerns her buying rat poison. The townspeople, the narrator says, alternated between thinking that she would kill herself and that she would marry Homer. Homer soon disappears, however, and Emily stays inside her home. Although she does emerge at times, gradually she becomes a recluse, and the town considers her “dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse” until she dies.
After her death, when townspeople entered the home, they found her body in her bedroom. After the funeral, a sealed room was entered, in which was found a shriveled corpse, presumably that of Homer. The narrator includes themselves in the group that entered the room. The reader is left to infer that the hair found on the bed beside Homer's corpse belonged to Emily.