Miss Emily refuses to change with the town and the times, and stubbornly clings to the past. She is a lonely woman because her father scared all of her suitors away when she was younger. All alone and mentally ill, Miss Emily shows that she is mentally sick through her sad, stubborn efforts to cling to the past. Miss Emily shows her first signs of being unable to change with the times at the beginning of the story, when she refuses to pay her taxes and give her house a mailbox. The members of the Board of Alderman visit Miss Emily to collect her taxes, she is very offended at the action.
Miss Emily insists that she is not required to pay taxes in the city of Jefferson and that the officials can speak with Colonel Sartoris about the issue. However, at the time of this conversation, Colonel Sartoris has been dead for nearly a decade. Miss Emily struggles with moving forward with time because she does not want to change. She does not want to face the fact that she is all alone and unhappy. Miss Emily is unable to cope with the loss of her father, who was the only man in her life, and this is the main cause of Miss Emily’s mental illness.
The story then jumps forward about thirty years, and the townspeople recall another incident of Miss Emily being visited by town officials. At this time, Miss Emily’s father, Mr. Grierson, has just passed away, and there is an awful smell coming from the mansion. Judge Stevens, the town mayor who pity’s Miss Emily decides to solve the problem by sprinkling lime in her yard, rather than to confront her. At this point in the story, the townspeople feel sorry for Miss Emily because she is thirty years old, and still single because her father never allowed her to date or marry.
The next day, the women from Jefferson pay a visit to Miss Emily to offer condolences from her father’s death. Miss Emily refuses to admit that her father is dead, and holds on to the body for three days before finally turning it over for the funeral. The smell coming from the Grierson home, most likely from her father’s decaying corpse, shows Miss Emily’s inability to let go of the past and move on with the future. Later in the story, Miss Emily becomes very friendly with a construction foreman, Homer Barron.
The townspeople assume that Miss Emily is spending time with this gentleman because she was never allowed to date when her father was alive, and the pity her because Homer is below her social class. As Miss Emily and Homer Barron continue to see each other, Miss Emily goes to the local drugstore to purchase arsenic, with no explanation. The next day, the package is delivered to her home with a note saying the arsenic is for rats. After Miss Emily purchases a sliver toilet set that is monogrammed with Homer’s initials, the townspeople assume that Miss Emily and Homer have gotten married.
Soon after, Homer comes home one day, and never leaves again. Miss Emily’s appearance soon decays along with her home. No one from the town ever saw Miss Emily or Homer again, until her death at age seventy-four. When the townspeople come into the Grierson home for the funeral service, the townspeople find a room that appears to have been untouched for a number of years. Inside the room, the townspeople see Homer Barron’s dead corpse laid in the bed with an iron gray hair on the pillow next to him from Miss Emily’s latter part of life.
Miss Emily was unable to admit to the loss of both her father and Homer Barron because she had a hard hold on the past, and refused to let go of it until she finally died. Miss Emily was a sad character, because she was depressed, mentally ill, and unable to grasp the passage of time. It is seen by the townspeople through her actions that she was very sad and lonely, and willing to go to great lengths to keep from being alone. Faulkner showed the struggle that Miss Emily had with this through her lack of upkeep to her home, her inability to change with the town of Jefferson, and her refusal to let go of her deceased loved ones.