When does the strange smell develop around Miss Emily's house in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"?

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One of the unique features in this short story is Faulkner's shifts of time. For, "A Rose for Emily" is divided into five sections, with the first and last dealing with the present, the now of the narrative, while the three middle sections detail the past. Thus, the mention of the smell occurs in a past time since it is alluded to in Section II. When older members of the communtiy complain, a judge refuses to act against "a lady."  However, the only way to determine the time that has elapsed is to examine Sections III and IV.

Section III:

  • The sidewalks began in the town the summer after Emily's father died. 
  • It is then that Miss Emily starts to entertain Homer Barron and is seen riding with him in the "yellow-wheeled buggy" on Sundays. 
  • Then, there is some passage of time as the older people in town form a judgment of Miss Emily, whispering "Poor Emily."
  • Yet, the narrators mention

She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. 

  • Emily buys poison one year after the whisperings of "Poor Emily" have begun.  She is "over thirty then" and stares down the druggist when he states that she must indicate for what use she wants the arsenic.

Section IV

  • The next day after she has purchased the arsenic, the townspeople say, "She will kill herself." But, "later" she is seen riding with Homer again.
  • The "next Sunday" they still drive together.
  • Some time passes and the relatives of Emily arrive. "Two days later" she purchases a man's toilet set in silver, engraved with an "H."
  • Homer disappears shortly after this, but the townspeople believe he has gone to prepare for Emily's arrival.
  • After another week, they depart, and within "three days" Homer returns to town. "And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron."
  • During the "next few years" Emily grows fatter and "grayer and grayer" and only the "Negro man" is seen going and coming from the market.  It is probably during this time that the odor is detected and mentioned to the judge as it is in Section III.
  • The narrators mention that Emily's door remains closed except for

a period of six or seven years, when she was about forty, during which she gave lessons in china-parting.

Figuring out when the smell develops, therefore, is a matter of some conjecture on the part of the reader. Nonetheless, it would seem to be shortly after Miss Emily is "over thirty" and at least a month after the purchase of the arsenic since she is seen riding with Homer  "later" and the "next Sunday" after that.  Approximately another week passes as she purchases the engraved silver comb and brush set.


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