Who was Emilly Grierson? What happened to Emily in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his story, “A Rose for Emily,” Wlliam Faulkner’s protagonist, Emily Grierson was a tragic character.  Miss Emily Grierson never married.  Her life spanned seventy years—pre-Civil War, Civil War, and after the war.  In Emily’s world, nothing was as it seemed. 

At one time, her aristocratic family was the most prominent in Jefferson, Mississippi.To the town, Emily was a curiosity. Almost everyone in her life disappointed her.  

She was left to her own devices by her father after his death.  He left her the family home and that was all.  By preventing her from marrying,  her father set in motion a life of loneliness and despair.  He disallowed any courtships implying that no suitor was good enough for Emily.  

After his death, she became a recluse for several months.  The town felt pity for Emily.Her father's lack of preparation for Emily doomed her to live as a spinster and pauper. 

So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized.

Emily met Homer Barron, a yankee who came to work in Jefferson.  Homer and Emily were seen riding around in her carriage on Sundays.  Gossip began and implied that Homer had ruined Emily’s reputation. Some were glad that she had an interest, and others felt that she would never marry a yankee. 

Instead of getting involved with Emily, the town sits back and notes everything that happens to her but does nothing to help.

Sadly, the town gossips send people to talk to her about her behavior which was considered disgraceful.  What were she and Homer doing on those Sunday afternoons? The town sent for her cousins. They left after a week.  The minister was sent to talk to her.  He said he would never go back again.

During the time that the cousins were there, Emily did some strange things.  First, she bought some poison.  Secondly, she bought some men’s items: a toilet set engraved with H.B; a complete outfit of clothing including a nightshirt. Rumor had it that Emily and Homer had married. 

Everyone was happy except possibly Emily.  As usual, the watchers saw Homer go into Emily’s house through the back door.  After that, Homer was never seen again.

For six months, Emily was not seen.  During that time, there was an odor issue.  The neighbors complained to the authorities. About four days later, some men came at night to Emily’s and poured lime around the house. 

Throughout the rest of her life, Emily was seen a few times—taught painting classes and met with the new town council. She refused to pay her taxes by saying that Colonel Sartoris had taken care them for her.  Of course, Sartoris had been dead for ten years. 

Emily was found dead by her loyal servant who apparently had helped her in everything that she did.  Her funeral was attended by the entire town.  After the funeral, the women came to rummage.  When they went to the upstairs bedroom, a man’s skeleton/corpse was found with the remains of a night shirt on him.  On the pillow next to the skeleton was a gray hair.

No one knows for sure what happened except for her black servant.  When the people came to Emily’s house, he went out the back door and was never seen again.   .                                                                               

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A Rose for Emily

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