A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner

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Part 2

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2 of William Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily.

A Rose for Emily | Part 2 | Summary



The narrative flashes back 30 years. Townspeople notice a terrible smell coming from somewhere on Miss Emily's property, and the aldermen aren't sure how to handle the situation. Mr. Grierson died two years earlier, and there hasn't been a sighting of 30-something Miss Emily's "sweetheart," Homer Barron, for several weeks. Miss Emily herself has become a recluse. The only man living on the property is the servant, Tobe.

Eighty-year-old mayor Judge Stevens doesn't know what to do. One of the younger aldermen says they need to tell her to clean up the property. Judge Stevens is appalled by this suggestion and asks the young man, "Dammit, sir, will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?" The aldermen eventually decide to take care of the problem themselves and sneak into Miss Emily's yard under the cover of night to spread lime, a powder made of calcium hydroxide that neutralizes bad odors. As they creep around the yard they spot Miss Emily's silhouette in the window, watching their every move.

The townspeople think "the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were." Miss Emily's great-aunt suffered from mental illness, and it seems like there might be something wrong with Miss Emily, too. After all she's still unmarried at the age of 30—a failing for women in this time and place. At first her single status may have been because her father didn't think anyone in town was good enough for his daughter, but surely this late in her life "she wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized." This sense of happiness about someone else's misfortune turns into pity after Miss Emily insists her father is still alive for three whole days after his passing. The narrator says this is understandable. Mr. Grierson had driven away every potential suitor. Completely alone she has to "cling to that which had robbed her, as people will."


The anecdote about the smell is the first clue as to what Miss Emily is hiding in her house. It also serves as an insider's look into the social and cultural hierarchy of an average southern town in the 1890s. As in most other places in the United States, women were viewed as being less than their male counterparts. In Jefferson their concerns and ideas are automatically considered invalid, as illustrated by the way Judge Stevens shrugs off the woman who first raises the issue about the smell at the Grierson house. It isn't until a man brings up the same topic that Judge Stevens does something about it. Miss Emily isn't given the courtesy of addressing the smell on her own; the aldermen simply trespass after dark and take care of it themselves. The men of Jefferson dictate what is appropriate for the women in town, even if those women are not members of the men's families.

In the 1890s most of a woman's value to society directly correlated to her ability to find (and keep) a marriage partner. At 30 Miss Emily is considered a spinster. Her father's death only highlights this social failing. Without him around she has no man to dote on. She understands this better than anyone else, which is one of the reasons she refuses to admit her father has died. Without him she means nothing to the world at large.

The world, even in Jefferson, is changing. "A Rose for Emily" addresses the evolving attitudes in the post–Civil War South. The men are in one of two camps: the old guard, who run the town, including Colonel Sartoris and Judge Stevens, and the young up-and-comers who question the decisions of the town elders. The narrator presents the younger men as being more progressive than their elder counterparts—they have no qualms with telling a woman to pay her taxes or suggesting she clean her property—but they are also portrayed as being more brash and inconsiderate than the men who lead them. Faulkner is suggesting social progress comes at the expense of gentility, one of the trademarks of the Old South. The more years that pass the more the South loses the customs and values that make it unique.

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