In a splintered time frame, an unnamed narrator tells the story of a woman who has died and the events that influenced her personality from the third person view of a speaker who knew Emily only from a distance, just as the other citizens of their town did. Isolation and emotional deprivation help to explain the behaviors of a desperate old woman.
Emily Grierson came from a well-to-do family background. She had lived in a fine house on the town's "most select street." Emily was the quintessential Southern belle. Her father treated her as a delicate possession and instilled in her the attitude of being above everyone else by virtue of her family name. He kept her isolated from potential suitors, even though she probably would have accepted offers of courtship and marriage. "She wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized." Sadly, no one asked.
After her father's death, Emily chose to isolate herself from the newer generations of townspeople, except for a short time when she gave china-painting lessons in her home.
The citizens often treated her as an unapproachable icon rather than as a person with feelings, and Emily had no sense of belonging in her community. They whispered and clucked behind her back as in the incident where neighbors complained of a foul smell at her home. No one wanted to speak to her about it, so several men "slunk about the house like burglars...They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there..." They felt sorry for her and were pleased to find out that her father had left her only the house when he died - a situation that reduced her social status to pauper and closer to their level.
Emily was deprived of love and companionship throughout...