Describe the manservant who stays with Emily.  What is significant about him?

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ansleyclark eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tobe, the manservant in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," is perhaps the only character in the story who is more mysterious than Emily. Because he has such an intimate relationship with Emily, living with her and serving her every day, he is also the only character who might have the answers to some of the mysteries surrounding Emily. 

Tobe also is a subtle glimpse into the racist political underpinnings and history of the South, where this story takes place. As an older man, Tobe has most likely been with Emily's family for a long time. As an older black man, he is connected to the South's violent history of slavery, and was most likely born a slave, perhaps on a plantation that Emily's father owned. Thus, Tobe represents the ways in which Emily is hanging on to this past and refusing to change along with the times. 

The fact that Tobe is mostly silent throughout the story, even though he is such an important character, speaks to the ways in which the white townspeople consider Tobe to be invisible, and to the South's deeply rooted racism. Faulkner writes, "We had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro," despite the glaring fact that Tobe most likely was the person who alerted the town to Emily's death.

Tobe disappears at the end of the story. Faulkner writes, "He walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again." Tobe may have felt loyalty for Emily and loved her, or he may have despised her. Has Tobe been waiting for Emily to die this whole time so that he can leave and finally be free from her family's history of power and slavery? This is one of the questions Faulkner leaves us with, and this question makes Tobe one of the most interesting characters in the story.

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A Rose for Emily

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