William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" begins with the death of Miss Emily Grierson, an old woman who has lived in the town for longer than most town members could remember. The story begins with the death, but it then flashes back, and will finally end with a full look at that death. The town is immediately shown to be a group of people who did not understand her, or even a group of people who were petty and superficial in their interest in her:
Our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house (494).
As we shall see, she was very much a troubled and vulnerable human being, and not a "fallen monument." The men had been intimidated by her because she lived her life without caring about what they thought of her. The women wanted to see the inside of her house, but they got much more than they bargained for.
Miss Emily was such a recluse that only her manservant had seen the inside of her house in ten years. In the old days, Miss Emily had been a member of one of the town's most powerful families. That time had long passed. Her house is now in decay, an "eyesore" (495). The town, out of respect and fear, paid her property taxes for her. The mayor, long dead, had arranged for the town to pay her taxes, but the new leaders thought that was wrong. They went to her to ask her to pay taxes, but she said she owes no taxes. She tells them to go see Colonel Sartoris, the mayor, who has been dead for ten years. They leave, "vanquished" (496).
Then, Faulkner refers to a "smell" which was coming from the house thirty years before the "taxes" scene. Her father died two years before the "smell" scene, at which point she took a "sweetheart" (496). The town believed she would marry him, but he left her: "After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all" (496)....