A Rose for Emily
by William Faulkner
A Rose for Emily Section 1 Summary
Before we begin, we want to direct you to our discussion of the town's "Setting." If you get confused about when a given event is happening, our chronology should help clear things up.
We should also note that the narrator of this story is a little odd. The narrator often refers to itself as "we," and seems to represent several generations of townspeople, both male and female, in Jefferson, Louisiana (see "Setting" for more on this). So, during the summary we might refer to the narrator as "the narrator," "the town," "the townspeople." Now for the summary:
- The story begins at Miss Emily Grierson's funeral. Apparently, everybody in town has come. The men, we are told, come because they have some good feelings for her, and admire her. The narrator says that the town sees her as a "fallen monument" (1.1).
- This is a confusing line. A monument is a structure or building created as a memorial to a specific person or event. (Don't worry. It will all sort of make sense in the end.)
- The women's reason for coming to the funeral (which is apparently being held at Miss Emily's home) is pretty simple: curiosity.
- It's been over a decade since anyone except for Miss Emily and Tobe, the black man who is her servant, have seen inside the house.
- Now we get a description of the house. It's a fancy house, originally white, with cupolas and spires.
- It was built in the 1870s on what used to be the best street in town.
- (Click here to see what the house might have looked like when built.)
- Now the street is an urban and industrial center, and the old house is an unattractive building in an unattractive neighborhood.
- When Miss Emily was living she was, for the town, "a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town" (1.3).
- (In other words, the townspeople have inherited her, and feel responsible for her. That she is a "tradition" also suggests that the townspeople pass on this inherited duty from generation to generation.)
- The "hereditary obligation" began in 1894 when Emily's father died. Apparently, Emily's father left her the house, but no money.
- Colonel Sartoris, the mayor of the town, devised a scheme for not making Miss Emily pay taxes on her house, while not making her feel like she was being offered charity.
- He made up an imaginary loan from her father to the town, and said the town was paying it back by "remitting" (releasing her from) her taxes.
- The narrator also calls this a "dispensation" which means "exemption."
- When the "next generation" gets involved with running the town, they decided they want to collect taxes from Miss Emily after all.
- When sending her the tax bill, and writing her letters, doesn't work, a "deputation" (a group of representatives of the town) comes to her house to ask her to pay the debt.
- Now we get the story of that meeting:
- Miss Emily's servant lets them into her parlor.
- We learn that nobody from the town has been in her house in almost a decade, since Miss Emily stopped "giving china-painting lessons."
- The room is dusty and smelly and dark. Emily's servant lets in some light from a window, and they look at a portrait of Miss Emily's father.
- Enter Miss Emily.
- Everybody stands.
- She is "a small, fat woman in black" (1.6).
- Miss Emily is wearing a gold chain so long it disappears into the belt of her clothing. She's also sporting an elegant ebony cane complete with a golden head.
- The conversation takes place with everybody standing.
- Basically, they ask her the debt, and she tells them to see Colonel Sartoris, who apparently has been dead for about ten years.
- When they press her she is firm – she doesn't have any taxes. Period.
- She calls her servant, Tobe, and asks him to get the tax collectors out of her parlor.