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The strange smell develops around the house about thirty years before the time in which the story is set. It happens two years after her father dies and just a little while after Homer Barron, who she was supposed to marry, disappears.
The neighbors want something done, but the mayor doesn't want to insult Miss Emily. So what they do is send four men, sneaking like burglars, to sprinkle lime here and there in an attempt to get rid of the smell. It didn't work, of course, and they just had to wait for the smell to go away, which it did in a week or two.
The strange odor that permeates the air around the house of Miss Emily Grierson develops two years after her father's death and a "short time after" Homer Barron is no longer seen.
Initially, the townspeople are relieved that Miss Emily has "an interest" after the death of her father, and they are not too concerned that Homer is not from the South since "a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner [and]... a day laborer." But, those of the more genteel rank feel that Emily's relatives should talk with her since she is apparently defying tradition.
She carried her head high enough—even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson.
This defiance and demand for "the recognition of her dignity" is also exhibited in Miss Emily's purchase of arsenic as she defies customary procedures and does not state why she wants this poison. Instead, she looks "eye for eye" at the druggist until he looks away. He sends "the Negro delivery boy" out from the back to give a package marked "for rats" to Emily.
Shortly after this, a strange and odoriferous smell begins to emanate about Emily's home. A female neighbor complains to the mayor, who is eighty years old. He asks her "what she would have him do." The neighbor wants the mayor to tell Miss Emily "to stop it." Then, the following day more complaints are lodged, but the old Southern gentleman says he cannot tell a lady to her face about a bad smell. So, in the dark of night, four men carry lime over to her house and sprinkle about the base of the brickwork. They even break open the cellar door and sprinkle lime inside. After a week or two the smell dissipates, but not without foreshadowing what is to come in the narrative.
The people in the town have no idea what the strange smell is that is coming from Miss Emily's home. Towns people have been complaining to the town council and want something done, but no one is brave enough to confront Miss Emily. They know that she is headstrong and also very proud. Instead, they develop a plan to treat the smell.
Believing the smell may be coming from the basement of the house, four men creep around her house one night and spread lime in hopes of suppressing the odor. While doing this task they see Miss Emily silhouette in the upstairs window.
The strange smell develops not long after Homer's disappearance and Miss Emily's purchase of rat poison.
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