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Miss Emily is the daughter of one of the most important, wealthy men in her town, what appears to be a small, southern town. I am going to guess that her father, who died in 1894, had fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War, likely at a very high level, since the story tells us that she will be buried in a cemetery of the war-dead, in a family plot, probably, or at least, where her father has been buried.
This suggests that Miss Emily had a fairly comfortable childhood, in what had been a mansion when it was built,
...decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street (1).
We do not learn when she lost her mother, but I have always believed that Miss Emily lost her mother at a fairly young age and that she was a "Daddy's girl." Beyond this, I can speculate that she was either tutored privately at home or sent to a prestigious private school for her education, perhaps a finishing school, as children of her class usually were. I also picture her having a somewhat lonely childhood, with no siblings and few children of her own class she would have been permitted to play with.
In her adolescence, the normal progression of events would have led to a coming out party, Miss Emily a debutante of a particular type, a southern belle, meant to meet possible suitors for her hand. But there are two reasons to think this may not have happened. First, the story suggests that Miss Emily's father had fallen on hard times, even before his death, since we learn that Miss Emily's present and future taxes are being forgiven by the town, because there is little left for Miss Emily to inherit. Second, we become aware that her father discouraged all suitors. We can infer then that Miss Emily's adolescence was not a whirlwind of parties, but, rather, an adolescence in which she was expected to care for her father, possibly because her mother was already gone, possibly because there were no suitable suitors, and certainly because her father felt his own needs transcended Miss Emily's.
We do not know how old Miss Emily was when her father died, but she was over thirty. She was ill for a long time, having had what seems to have been a complete nervous breakdown after her father's death. And she has a sweetheart, who disappears until later in the story, the townspeople believing he has abandoned her. So, it seems reasonable to conclude that Miss Emily was trying, finally, to have a life for herself, although this does not work out well for her in the end. These would also have been years of impoverishment for her, and she eventually shuts herself up in her house, nearly a complete recluse once the sweetheart disappears, with the exception of a brief period in which she provides lessons in china painting.
In her old age, Miss Emily is an obese old woman, sad, graying, and even more of a recluse. She dies at the age of 74, and she joins her illustrious ancestors, in the family plot or mausoleum. She is unloved, not respected by the townspeople, an object of curiosity more than anything. The only redeeming feature to her old age seems to be that she continues to manage to not pay her taxes! Miss Emily goes to her grave having missed out on so much of what is good in life, because of her father's selfishness and the relentless class system of the south.
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