A Rose for Emily

William Faulkner

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Plot Summary

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College explains the plot summary of William Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily.

A Rose for Emily | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The townspeople of Jefferson, Mississippi, gather for the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson. Miss Emily, a cold and cantankerous 74-year-old spinster, lived in Jefferson her entire life. According to the narrator who represents the collective voice of the town, Miss Emily is more of a monument to the past than a beloved neighbor.

The narrative jumps back to late 1893, when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor, tells Miss Emily she will not have to pay taxes, then jumps forward again 30 years to when the new generation of government leaders sends her a tax bill. Miss Emily ignores it, then later insists the Board of Aldermen speak with Colonel Sartoris. The aldermen don't know what to do as Colonel Sartoris has been dead for years.

The narrative goes back in time again, this time to 1895, two years after the death of Miss Emily's father. Neighbors are complaining about the unpleasant smell coming from Miss Emily's property. After a heated discussion about how to handle the situation, the aldermen sneak over to Miss Emily's house after dark and spread lime powder to neutralize the odor. The smell goes away in a few weeks.

It's clear the Griersons have fallen from their formerly high status in town, and the townspeople take pleasure in pitying the now-penniless Miss Emily. The narrator tells how Miss Emily insisted her father was alive for three days after his death in 1893, then she shut herself up in the house for six months following the funeral.

Homer Barron, a Yankee—a term developed by southerners during the Civil War to refer to their rivals from the Northeast who supported the Union—arrives in the summer of 1894 to oversee the construction of Jefferson's new sidewalks. He and Miss Emily take buggy rides together every Sunday, which is the source of much gossip around town. People think Miss Emily is having sexual relations with Homer before marriage.

The narrative moves forward a year to when Miss Emily purchases arsenic from the drug store. Everyone is convinced she is going to kill herself because of Homer's insistence he's not a marrying man, even after a year of courtship. The Baptist minister is coerced into talking with Miss Emily about her behavior. It doesn't go well, and the minister's wife alerts Miss Emily's cousins about what is going on in Jefferson. They show up in a flash.

Miss Emily purchases a man's toilet set, or grooming kit, a suit, and a nightshirt. The townspeople interpret this as a sign she and Homer are finally married, but Homer is nowhere to be seen. He reappears on Miss Emily's doorstep shortly after the cousins leave town and, following that, is never seen again.

Miss Emily disappears too, emerging some time later with graying hair and a significant gain in weight. As the years pass Miss Emily is seen less and less and her hair becomes grayer and grayer. The only sign of life about the house is Tobe, her aging black servant, who does the household shopping. When Miss Emily dies in 1937, he lets the women of the town into the house then walks out the back door for good.

The narrator's reminiscing brings the story back to the present. A few days after Miss Emily's funeral the townspeople break down the door to an upstairs bedroom in the old Grierson home. The interior is decorated like a bridal suite but has the atmosphere of a long-ignored tomb. On the bed is the decomposed body of Homer Barron. Next to him on an empty pillow is a single strand of long, gray hair.

A Rose for Emily Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Jefferson's citizens gather for Emily Grierson's funeral.

Rising Action

2 In flashback readers learn Emily was told to pay her taxes.

3 A flashback shows aldermen spreading lime secretly.

4 Another flashback reveals Emily's purchase of arsenic.


5 Townspeople break down the door to a locked bedroom.

Falling Action

6 Homer Barron's decomposed body is on the bed.


7 On the pillow beside him rests a long strand of gray hair.

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