Summarize the story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Considered an American literature masterpiece, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner has two unusual elements: a fractured time frame and a narrator that appears to have known everything about Emily Grierson, a ‘flower of the Old South.”

The story covers the life of the protagonist Miss Emily Grierson. Emily lived in her house for seventy-four years which lasted before the Civil War, during and after it.  The setting for the story is Jefferson, Mississippi.

The first person point of view comes from a citizen of the town who guides the reader through the events of Emil’s life. To add interest to the story, the plot of the story is told with a fractured time frame.  The summary that is provided here is in the right chronological  order according to the events of Emily’s life.

Emily’s father kept her from marrying by refusing boys or men to court her.  He controlled her life.  When he died, Emily was about thirty years.  The father left her penniless and without any means of support.  He did give her the house, but without money how does she keep it up. Her only companion is the black servant Tobe.

When Emily was about 32, Homer Barron came to town to help put in the sidewalks.  A self-described homosexual, Homer drove Emily around the town on Sundays. The rumors began to fly among the townspeople: he was ruining her good name; they were going to marry; Homer had taken advantage of Emily. 

Finally, the women of the town asked the minister to talk to Emily. When that did no go, the women sent for her cousins.  During their stay, Emily did two unusual things: she ordered men’s toiletries and a nightshirt with HB embroidered, and she bought arsenic from the druggist.  Everyone thought that Homer and Emily would marry; so the cousins went home. 

Suddenly, Homer disappeared. The last time he was seen was when Tobe let him in the backdoor of Emily’s house.

And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron. And of Miss Emily for some time. The Negro man went in and out with the market basket, but the front door remained closed.

 Not too long after that a smell began to emanate from Emily’s house. The Sheriff and some men went during the night to spread lime around Emily’s house to eliminate the stench.

No one saw Emily for about six months.  Her hair now was completely gray.  Emily became a recluse and few people ever saw her. She refused any modernizing of the home.  In addition, when the new city leaders, decided that she should pay taxes, they went to her house and tried to convince her that she owed property taxes.  Never willing to accept death, Emily told them to talk to Colonel Sartoris who had been dead for many years.

Emily died in her chair downstairs.  After the funeral, Tobe let the women into the house, and he left through the back door never to be seen again.  The group goes upstairs and breaks open the locked bedroom door.  There a skeleton lies on the bed. Next to the corpse was a pillow with a head intention and one gray hair. 

Apparently, the town had known about the upstairs bedroom for some time since the narrator’s implication alludes to this:

Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.

That ends the story of an unusual lady from the Old South.