What does the quote, "I want arsenic" mean in the short story "A Rose for Emily"?

Expert Answers
lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote is a literal statement by Miss Emily to the pharmacist in her hometown of Jefferson, but it is the implication and the tone that aresignificant to the story.  Miss Emily has decided to buy poison and we aren't sure exactly why but can certainly imagine the stoic and determined tone of voice she uses when she asks for it.  The pharmacist asks her what she wants it for and she refuses to answer the question; she just makes her demand.  It is a scene where the reader can easily see the intimidating presence of Miss Emily -- no one wants to challenge her too much, so the druggist just retreats, wraps up the arsenic, and has another employee bring it to her.  The narrator then tells us the that the whole town thought she would kill herself with it, but that doesn't actually happen and she goes on to live a long life after that event.  What we don't learn until the last section of the story is that she actually killed Homer Barron with the arsenic and then she kept his dead body in an upper room of her home.  The reader gets to the end of the story and says to himself, "so THAT'S what happened with the poison!"  Once the reader has the all the pieces of the puzzle, the cold and commanding demand for the poison shows a determination in Miss Emily to do whatever she needs to do to take control of her situation -- she demands the poison and she kills Homer so that he can't leave her.  It is a short line, but the whole story hinges on it.

Read the study guide:
A Rose for Emily

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question