A Rose for Emily Summary

A Rose for Emily summary

In "A Rose for Emily," Emily Grierson is the last surviving member of a rich, aristocratic family. When she dies, a man’s skeleton is found in her bed next to a long gray hair on an indented pillow.

"A Rose for Emily" summary key points:

  • When Northern laborer Homer Barron comes to town, Emily takes an interest in him despite his lower social standing.
  • The town’s efforts to prevent the match fail. Her arrogant cousins come to town, and Emily buys arsenic.
  • Emily buys a men’s toiletry set, presaging marriage. Homer disappears and Emily becomes a recluse.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

As a child, Miss Emily Grierson had been cut off from most social contact and all courtship by her father. When he dies, she refuses to acknowledge his death for three days. After the townspeople intervene and bury her father, Emily is further isolated by a mysterious illness, possibly a mental breakdown.

Homer Barron’s crew comes to town to build sidewalks, and Emily is seen with him. He tells his drinking buddies that he is not the marrying kind. The townspeople consider their relationship improper because of differences in values, social class, and regional background. Emily buys arsenic and refuses to say why. The ladies in town convince the Baptist minister to confront Emily and attempt to persuade her to break off the relationship. When he refuses to discuss their conversation or to try again to persuade Miss Emily, his wife writes to Emily’s Alabama cousins. They come to Jefferson, but the townspeople find them even more haughty and disagreeable than Miss Emily. The cousins leave town.

Emily buys a men’s silver toiletry set, and the townspeople assume marriage is imminent. Homer is seen entering the house at dusk one day, but is never seen again. Shortly afterward, complaints about the odor emanating from her house lead Jefferson’s aldermen to surreptitiously spread lime around her yard, rather than confront Emily, but they discover her openly watching them from a window of her home.

Miss Emily’s servant, Tobe, seems the only one to enter and exit the house. No one sees Emily for approximately six months. By this time she is fat and her hair is short and graying. She refuses to set up a mailbox and is denied postal delivery. Few people see inside her house, though for six or seven years she gives china-painting lessons to young women whose parents send them to her out of a sense of duty.

The town mayor, Colonel Sartoris, tells Emily an implausible story when she receives her first tax notice: The city of Jefferson is indebted to her father, so Emily’s taxes are waived forever. However, a younger generation of aldermen later confronts Miss Emily about her taxes, and she tells them to see Colonel Sartoris (now long dead, though she refuses to acknowledge his death). Intimidated by Emily and her ticking watch, the aldermen leave, but they continue to send tax notices every year, all of which are returned without comment.

In her later years, it appears that Emily lives only on the bottom floor of her house. She is found dead there at the age of seventy-four. Her Alabama cousins return to Jefferson for the funeral, which is attended by the entire town out of duty and curiosity. Emily’s servant, Tobe, opens the front door for them, then disappears out the back. After the funeral, the townspeople break down a door in Emily’s house that, it turns out, had been locked for forty years. They find a skeleton on a bed, along with the remains of men’s clothes, a tarnished silver toiletry set, and a pillow with an indentation and one long iron-gray hair.

A Rose for Emily Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although an unnamed citizen of the small town of Jefferson, in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, tells the story of the aristocratic Miss Emily Grierson in a complicated manner, shifting back and forth in time without trying to make clear transitions, the story line itself is quite simple. Miss Emily’s father dies when she is a little more than thirty, in about 1882. For three days she prevents his burial, refusing to accept his death. He had driven off all of her suitors; now she is alone, a spinster, in a large house.

In the summer after the death of her father, Miss Emily meets Homer Barron, the Yankee foreman of a crew contracted to pave the sidewalks of Jefferson. They appear on the streets in a fancy buggy, provoking gossip and resentment. Two female cousins come to town from Alabama to attempt to persuade Miss Emily to behave in a more respectable manner. Emily buys an outfit of man’s clothes and a silver toilet set. To avoid the cousins, Homer leaves town. Miss Emily buys rat poison from the druggist. The cousins leave. Homer returns; he is never seen again.

A foul odor emanates from Miss Emily’s house. After midnight, four citizens, responding to complaints made by neighbors to Judge Stevens, the mayor, stealthily spread lime around the house and in her cellar. In a week or so, the smell goes away.

In 1894, Colonel Sartoris, the mayor, remits Miss Emily’s taxes. For about six or seven years, while in her forties, she gives china-painting lessons to the young girls of the town. Then for many years she is seen only at her window. Townspeople watch her black servant Tobe going in and out on errands. A new generation comes to power; they insist that Miss Emily pay taxes on her property. When she fails to respond, a deputation calls on her, but she insists that she owes no taxes, as Colonel Sartoris will tell them (he has been dead ten years).

In about 1925, Miss Emily dies. On the day of her funeral, the townspeople, including some old Civil War veterans, invade the house. Tobe leaves by the back door and is never seen again. One group breaks into a locked room upstairs and discovers the corpse of Homer Barron, which has moldered in the bed for forty years. On a pillow beside him, they find “a long strand of iron-gray hair,” evidence that Miss Emily had lain down beside him years after she poisoned him.

A Rose for Emily Summary

The story, told in five sections, opens in section one with an unnamed narrator describing the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson. (The narrator...

(The entire section is 1199 words.)

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis Section I

New Characters
Narrator: Never named, the narrator of the story is a member of the town and has known Miss Emily much of her life. Some critics have suggested that the narrator is the town itself.

Miss Emily Grierson: The protagonist of the story, Miss Emily, as she is known and referred to by everyone, is the town matriarch.

Colonel Sartoris: In 1894, Colonel Sartoris, who was then the mayor of the town, remitted Miss Emily’s taxes, for unknown reasons, “in perpetuity.”

Tobe: A Negro “manservant” of Miss Emily’s, Tobe is the only person who has entered Miss Emily’s house for years.

“A Rose for Emily” begins with...

(The entire section is 1400 words.)

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis Section II

New Characters
Judge Stevens: Eighty-year-old Judge Stevens is approached by townspeople about the smell on Miss Emily’s property.

Old Lady Wyatt: Miss Emily’s great-aunt, Old Lady Wyatt, had become senile and was remembered by the townspeople.

Miss Emily sends the deputation away, just as she had sent a similar party away thirty years earlier when neighbors had begun to complain to the town about a “smell” that had risen from Miss Emily’s property. The smell was noticed two years after Miss Emily’s father’s death, and a short time after Miss Emily’s “sweetheart went away.”

Eighty-year-old Judge Stevens was approached by...

(The entire section is 784 words.)

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis Section III

New Characters
Homer Barron: Miss Emily’s boyfriend who is described as a “big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face.” A Northerner, he has come south to Jefferson as a foreman helping to pave the sidewalks.

The Druggist: Miss Emily orders the local druggist to sell her arsenic, even though she refused to tell him what the poison is for.

After her father’s death, Miss Emily disappeared from public site for a long time, and when she reemerged, Jefferson had just started paving its sidewalks. Homer Barron, a “Yankee,” is a foreman for one of the crews working on the contract, and soon he would be seen by the town...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis Section IV

New Characters
Miss Emily’s Cousins: At the request of the Baptist minister’s wife, cousins from Alabama arrive and move in with Miss Emily, presumably to help her out.

After Miss Emily had requested rat poison from the druggist, the town assumed that she was planning her own suicide. The facts of her relationship with Homer Barron, a Northerner, was too great a disgrace in the town’s eyes, and suicide seemed a viable option. Although Miss Emily and Homer were seen regularly on Sunday afternoons, the town was uncertain that Miss Emily would be able to convince Barron, who admitted that he was “not a marrying man,” to marry her, and Miss Emily could not...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

A Rose for Emily Summary and Analysis Section V

New Characters
The Town Ladies: A contingent of women from the town are the first to arrive at Miss Emily’s following her death, and they are the last to see Tobe.

When news of Miss Emily’s death spreads, a group of ladies from the town arrives at Miss Emily’s door and is briefly greeted by Tobe, who lets them in and immediately proceeds to walk out the back door, never to be seen again. A funeral is held two days later, with several of the men wearing their newly brushed Confederate uniforms.

After Miss Emily was placed “decently in the ground,” a room above the stairs at Miss Emily’s, which has not been opened for years, is forced open. An...

(The entire section is 671 words.)