A Rose For Emily Plot

What is the plot of "A Rose for Emily"?

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Author William Faulkner's plot in his short story, "A Rose for Emily," basically serves to tell the life story of Miss Emily Grierson, a member of one of the venerable families in the mythical Mississippi town of Jefferson. Faulkner's story line jumps around in time, creating a somewhat confusing sequence of events. However, we learn that Emily has had a strict father who allows her little freedoms growing up, and he looks down upon most (if not all) of her suitors. Emily has few friends, and when her father dies, she refuses to allow his body to be removed until forced to do so by authorities. She lives alone in the aging family home, served only by a Negro manservant. Emily eventually courts the visiting Yankee foreman, Homer Barron, spurring gossip throughout the town when it is believed that they are to be married. Homer disappears and the townspeople assume that the relationship is over. Then, a mysterious smell pervades the grounds of the Grierson house. Little is seen of Emily for years, and she retreats to the solitude of her house until her death, when authorities discover a terrible secret.

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In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the following events occur and serve as major plot points.  Notice, they are not related to the reader in this order in the actual story:

  • Emily's father dies.
  • Emily tries to keep his body and says that he is not dead.
  • Emily meets Homer Barron and they date.
  • Emily buys poison.
  • Homer is seen going into her house one night and never seen again.  The townspeople assume he left town.
  • Emily's house smells horribly.
  • Emily dies.
  • A skeleton is found in Emily's upper bedroom, as is a hair that matches Emily's in an indentation in the pillow on the bed, next to the skeleton.

As you may notice, when these events are placed in order, not much of a surprise is created when Homer's skeleton is found.  This attests to Faulkner's skill as a writer and his skillfull use of point of view. 

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I would answer this by saying that there isn't that much of a plot.  This story isn't driven by a sequence of events, really.  Instead, there are a series of vignettes that reveal Miss Emily's character and circumstances.

We see her run off the people who have come to ask her to pay taxes.

Then we are back thirty years and the horrible smell is coming from her house.  The men go to sprinkle lime and see her watching them.

Then we get about as much as there is of a plot -- this is the part where Homer Barron comes to town, has a relationship of some sort with Emily, and then leaves.

From there, we jump ahead, for the most part, to her funeral.

So, as you can see, there is not really a sequential plot like some stories have.

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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.

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