Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784
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 neighbors about the smell, but he didn’t want to “accuse a lady to her face” about such a problem. So instead of confronting Miss Emily directly, four men sneak onto Miss Emily's property after midnight to spread lime around her house and in her cellar. After a couple of weeks, the smell went away, and the town went along with its business as usual.
It was with the onset of the smell that the townspeople had begun to feel sorry for Miss Emily, as they recalled how Miss Emily’s great-aunt, old lady Wyatt, had gone crazy. Miss Emily had always received more than her share of attention from the town, due to her unusual status. Although a good looking, slender woman, Miss Emily was never married; for a long time, the town believed that the Griersons felt themselves superior to the rest of the town, but when Miss Emily turned thirty without being married, the townspeople realized that Miss Emily wasn’t simply turning suitors away, as they had thought, but that she was most likely not receiving any viable offers of marriage at all.
When Miss Emily’s father died, and it came out that all he had left his daughter was the house, effectively leaving her a pauper, the town was “glad” and could at last pity Miss Emily. When townspeople came to call on Miss Emily, “she met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face.” Miss Emily went on to explain to her callers that her father was not dead, and it took three full days before the minister and the doctors could persuade Miss Emily to let them dispose of her father’s body properly.
If it was not clear in the first section, it is clear by now that “A Rose for Emily” is not structured in a linear narrative form. The story, which began with Miss Emily’s death, has now flashed back three decades to a time when “the smell” arose from Miss Emily’s property, and two years prior to that when Miss Emily’s father died and the town had to convince Miss Emily to dispose of his body properly.
The physical decay of Miss Emily and her surroundings that the narrator describes in the first section begins to make sense in Section II as he describes Miss Emily as mentally disturbed. Here the story begins to take something of a “gothic” twist: Miss Emily, in denial over her father’s death, refuses to give up her father’s corpse—a harbinger of events to come.
In describing the town leaders at the time of “the smell,” the narrator continues to emphasize the theme of “change” within the town: the Board of Alderman is described as comprising “three graybeards and one younger man, a member of the rising generation.” Faulkner once again pushes forth the idea of the new generations taking over the running of the town, even thirty years prior to Miss Emily’s death at the “beginning” of the story. And the theme of class distinctions and traditions is further emphasized when Judge Stevens refuses to “accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad.…”
Perhaps the most important sentence in the entire story occurs at the start of this section: “So she vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.” The use of the definite article in this sentence is telling. It is not merely “a smell” that raised the attention of the townspeople; it is “the smell.” By using the definite article here, the narrator is granting significance to the smell that the indefinite article “a” would not give it. He is implying that “the smell” will return to play an important role with the story. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of “the smell” with Miss Emily’s refusal to give up the dead body of her father not only adds to the gothic element of the story, but also foreshadows events to come.
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