Discussion Topic

The cause and community reaction to the smell in "A Rose for Emily."


The smell in "A Rose for Emily" is caused by the decomposing body of Homer Barron, whom Emily murdered. The community reacts with curiosity and discomfort, but out of respect for Emily's status, they handle the matter discreetly by sprinkling lime around her property to neutralize the odor without confronting her directly.

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What are the neighbors complaining about in "A Rose for Emily"?

A short time after her "sweetheart" departs, the neighbors of Emily Grierson complain of a putrid smell. 

After Homer Barron is no longer seen, Miss Emily again becomes reclusive and only the "Negro man" is seen as he enters and departs the Grierson home. When a woman complains to eighty-year-old Judge Stevens about the smell, the old southern gentleman replies,"But what would you have me do about it, madam?"

Later, when a young alderman broaches the subject again, the judge blusters, "Dammit, sir...will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

The judge's reactions demonstrate a Southern gentleman's deference to Miss Emily's social position. Earlier in the story, the narrators declare Emily Grierson "a tradition, a duty, and a care." So, this incident seems to illustrate the characterization of Emily as previously described.

In contrast to the reaction of the judge, the neighbors take upon themselves the dilemma of the malodorous house: late one night, four men cross the lawn of the Grierson home and one of them seems to sow seeds that appear to be powdered lime. The men go so far as to break open the cellar door and sprinkle there.

As they recross the lawn, the men notice a light in a window which had been dark. Now it is lighted, and Miss Emily is seated with this light behind her and "her upright torso motionless as that of an idol." The men sneak quietly across the lawn and into the shadows. After a week or two, the smell is no longer detected.

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What are the neighbors complaining about in "A Rose for Emily"?

In Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily," Miss Emily's neighbors become increasingly concerned about a number of Miss Emily's bizarre lifestyle choices.  For example, the neighbors become increasingly aware that Miss Emily is strange when she attempts to prevent the townspeople from removing her dead father's body from their home.  Further, people become increasingly aware that Miss Emily is evolving into a strange character when she becomes more and more reclusive, refusing to interact with her neighbors in any way and spending most of her time with a male servant.  However, neighbors become most concerned with Miss Emily when her home starts to emit a strange stench.  The odor becomes so strong as to alarm the townspeople and they come together to have a meeting regarding the smell.  None of the community members are comfortable confronting Miss Emily about the strange smell; instead the men of the town creep into her yard and spread lye around the outside to rid the town of the smell.  This strange scent is representative of Miss Emily's inability to fit into the town any longer.  Moreover, because Miss Emily serves as a symbol of resistance to social change in the story, this grotesque and eerie element surrounding Miss Emily is suggestive of the moral decay that occurs when one is obstinate to social change.

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In "A Rose for Emily", what smell do Miss Emily's neighbors complain about?

William Faulkner's writing often features the Southern Gothic literary tradition. Derived from the Gothic tradition, which became popular in late eighteenth-century Europe, Southern Gothic fosters a grotesque, suspenseful, and mysterious atmosphere for readers. The smell in "A Rose for Emily" works throughout the story to create a Southern Gothic tone, particularly in Section II. While this section does not disclose the source of the smell, it does build suspense and encourage readers to engage critically with the story. 

Section II acts as a flashback in which the reader learns about the curious, offensive smell. The opening line sets the mysterious tone for this section, as the narrator explains that Miss Emily vanquished the men who called on her in Section I "just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell" (n.p.). This line creates a sense of mystery not only about the smell, but about Miss Emily's character as well; it establishes that Miss Emily has been a bit of an outcast, or at least a topic of not-so-elegant conversation, in her community for quite a while. 

The reader's information about the smell's source is limited in Section II, but we can use context clues to get closer to solving the mystery. Because the narrator mentions Emily's father's death and burial, we can ascertain that his death is known publicly and therefore not the source of the smell.

However, the narrator opens the section by mentioning that the smell arrived a short time after Miss Emily's sweetheart, rumored to be the one she would marry, left her. Congruently, the narrator closes the section by mentioning that her father drove away many of Miss Emily's suitors and that "she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will" (n.p.). We later learn that Homer Barron robbed Miss Emily of her opportunity to live a spinster-free lifestyle. This type of subtle hint creates the type of suspense popular among the Southern Gothic tradition.

The men who go to Miss Emily's house to discreetly take care of the smell notice a light come on and a figure sitting in the window as they leave. Very mysterious indeed. Faulkner creates this type of intense mystery and suspense in Section II, leaving the reader to speculate about what will happen next. The following sections unravel the story even further. As the reader learns more about Miss Emily and Homer Barron's relationship, the suspense continues to build. Courtship and rumors and arsenic, oh my! 

It is not until the final section that the reader learns what had happened to Homer Barron and that he was the source of the offensive smell years ago. The smell works to promote Faulkner's Southern Gothic style of writing in "A Rose for Emily," and creates a suspenseful, thrilling, and engaged experience for the reader. 

And as if it was not enough to end on the note of a decayed corpse, in true Southern Gothic tradition, Faulkner leaves the reader with the image of Miss Emily's silver hair right beside her deceased lover. 

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What causes the "smell" from Emily's house in "A Rose for Emily"?

The smell is that of Homer's rotting body.  The story is not structured chronologically.  It is told out of order, and this incident takes place prior to the section where Faulkner discusses Homer's disappearance.  The reader can infer that Emily purchased the rat poison not to commit suicide, as the druggist suspected, but to keep Homer from shaming her further and totally abandoning her. 

One can imagine that Emily could be driven to murder her one chance at love since her father drove away any love interests.  When her father died, she was left all alone.  So when Homer arrives, she has a chance at love again.  However, while everyone in town seems to realize that he is just using her, Emily does not.  So when it becomes clear to her that he is just using her and going to abandon her, one could see how she might be driven to poison him and keep him from leaving.  Of course, it is Homer's corpse that the townspeople find in the upstairs bedroom when they finally breach the house after Emily's death.  It is also Emily's gray hair they find on the pillow next to the corpse.  Obviously, she kept Homer's body and slept next to it.

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What was the smell in "A Rose for Emily"?

In the second section of the short story "A Rose for Emily," the narrator describes an awful smell emanating from Miss Emily Grierson's home shortly after her sweetheart Homer Barron deserts her. Initially, the local ladies blame Miss Emily's Black cook and housekeeper for the smell and believe that he is not properly cleaning the kitchen. One of Miss Emily's female neighbors even complains to the elderly Judge Stevens about the smell.

Several other neighbors also issue complaints regarding the awful smell, and the Board of Aldermen meets to discuss a possible solution. When a younger member of the Board of Aldermen suggests they demand that Miss Emily clean her estate and get rid of the smell, Judge Stevens interrupts him and says, "Dammit, sir ... will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

As an older member of the Jefferson community, Judge Stevens respects the once-esteemed Grierson family and would never purposely offend Miss Emily. He honors her as a living monument of the Old South and influences the Board of Alderman to take action without insulting Miss Emily. The next night, several men sneak onto Miss Emily's property like burglars and sprinkle lime around her house and throughout her yard to suppress the awful smell. After a week or two, the smell goes away, and Miss Emily continues to live as a recluse.

Later in the story, the reader learns that Miss Emily believed that she would lose Homer Barron and purchased arsenic from a local pharmacy. Miss Emily proceeded to poison her lover in order to stay with him forever, and the smell emanating from her yard is implied to be that of Homer Barron's decomposing corpse.

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In "A Rose for Emily," who did the townspeople blame for the odor at Miss Emily's house?

In "A Rose for Emily," by William Faulkner, the townspeople have a dilemma: they do not want to offend the Old Southern woman, Miss Emily, but they cannot abide the smell emanating from her house. 

Apparently because she suffered so much at her father's death (she would not let anyone take his body out of the house for three days) and because she had recently been jilted by her Northern lover, Miss Emily rarely leaves her house. The only one anyone ever sees going in or coming out is her Negro manservant. 

"Just as if a man--any man--could keep a kitchen properly," the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed. 

No one does anything about the stench at first, but the complaints begin to mount. One neighbor lady complains to the mayor, Judge Stevens, an old man of the same generation as Emily's father who understands what an insult it would be to Miss Emily if anyone mentioned such a thing to her. He dismisses the complaint, saying:

"It's probably just a snake or a rat that nigger of hers killed in the yard. I'll speak to him about it."

The complaints continue, however, and finally the Board of Aldermen are forced to do something. The men, three older and one younger, have a meeting. The younger man sees this as a simple matter of sending Miss Emily a threatening letter and telling her to get rid of the smell within a certain amount of time. 

"Dammit, sir," Judge Stevens said, "will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"

The older men on the Board prevail, and a comical scene ensues. One night, after midnight, the four men slink around Miss Emily's house

like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings.... They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.

Your question is who, other than Miss Emily, the townspeople blame for the smell, and the answer is no one specifically. The townspeople just want the smell to go away. It is the mayor, Judge Stevens, who tries to offer a possible explanation for the stench: Miss Emily's Negro servant probably killed a rat or a snake and that is what is causing the smell.  

Of course, we know that it is much more than a decomposing snake or rat which is causing such a foul odor; the townspeople will not understand what it is they were smelling for another thirty years, after Miss Emily dies and they discover Homer Barron's decomposed body lying on the bed. 

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What event in "A Rose for Emily" clarifies the source of Emily's house smell?

In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the foul smell creates a sense of mystery, which lends itself to the Southern Gothic tradition throughout the story. The smell acts as a topic of debate among the members of Miss Emily's town and allows the reader to gain perspective as to how a person like Miss Emily would have been treated during the time in which the story was written. Although she lets herself go as the story progresses, her community still treats her respectfully, as Emily's family has a privileged tradition in her town. Therefore, as the smell grows more and more potent, rather than directly addressing Miss Emily about it, the community handles the smell with the utmost sensitivity. The final scene in which the narrator investigates Miss Emily's attic after her passing reveals the source of the rancid smell which emanated from her house years prior: Homer Barron's corpse.

Furthermore, throughout the story smell acts as foreshadowing. The first mention of any kind of smell is in the first section when the narrator describes Emily's house as having "smelled of dust and disuse--a close, dank smell" (n.p.). This passage acts as foreshadowing of the smell mentioned in the next section.

Due to repeated complaints from the town regarding the rancid smell coming from Miss Emily's house, four men entered her property to sprinkle lime in the cellar and the outbuildings to discretely and politely take care of it. As the men were leaving, they notice a light come on and a stiff figure sitting in the window. At this point in the story, both the characters and the reader assume the figure to be Miss Emily. However, the smell acts once again as foreshadowing to the final section of the story. 

After Miss Emily passes away, the narrator and other unspecified characters investigate the room upstairs, which had been a vacant mystery for many years. Through the heavy layers of dust, they discover the silver monogrammed men's toiletry set and men's clothing that Miss Emily had purchased earlier in the story. Much to their shock, they also discover the corpse of Homer Barron, who had courted Miss Emily and had gone missing years prior.

This passage confirms that the horrible smell that came from Miss Emily's house as well as the stiff figure that the men saw in the window the night they spread the lime was in fact Homer Barron.

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