What is the role of "the smell" incident in the story "A Rose for Emily"?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The role of the smell that emanates from Emily's home after the disappearance of Homer Barron has two functions. The first is to alert the reader that Emily has probably killed Homer and the smell is Homer's rotting body. The "smell incident" also tells the reader a lot about the Southern society Emily inhabits. The townspeople have no idea what the smell could be or, at least they won't admit it to themselves. In addition, they refuse to confront Emily directly because she comes from such a distinguished family. Judge Stevens, the town’s mayor, won't do anything about it for fear of offending Emily (‘‘Dammit, sir … will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?’’). The ladies accuse Tobe, Emily's manservant, of poor housekeeping. Four men finally sneak up to Emily's home at midnight and sprinkle lime around it. When they are done, they see that ‘‘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.” This "idol" is probably Homer's body, not Emily. But, as this incident has shown, the men are blinded by tradition and can't see the obvious even though it is right in front of their eyes.

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