Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604
Miss Emily’s Cousins: At the request of the Baptist minister’s wife, cousins from Alabama arrive and move in with Miss Emily, presumably to help her out.
After Miss Emily had requested rat poison from the druggist, the town assumed that she was planning her own suicide. The facts of her relationship with Homer Barron, a Northerner, was too great a disgrace in the town’s eyes, and suicide seemed a viable option. Although Miss Emily and Homer were seen regularly on Sunday afternoons, the town was uncertain that Miss Emily would be able to convince Barron, who admitted that he was “not a marrying man,” to marry her, and Miss Emily could not continue with such a public relationship without losing face.
The town was concerned about the example Miss Emily was setting, and it went so far as to send a Baptist minister to meet with her, but to no avail. When Miss Emily ordered a silver toilet set with Barron’s initials, along with a man’s suit, the town became convinced that the two would soon be married. Barron disappeared for three days, long enough for Miss Emily's cousins, who had been called in out of concern for Miss Emily, to leave. The town assumed that upon Barron’s return, the two would wed, but shortly after his reappearance in the town, he disappeared, never to be seen again by anyone.
Once Barron disappeared for the last time, the town saw less and less of Miss Emily, and when she did show herself again, she had grown fat and gray. Except for a period of six or seven years in her forties when she gave china-painting lessons to the children of the town, Miss Emily effectively removed herself from all public appearances and interactions. Only Tobe, Miss Emily’s manservant, was seen on his regular shopping excursions, and even he was steadily growing “grayer and more stooped.…” Although there were attempts at extracting information from Tobe, Tobe refused to answer any questions about Miss Emily, and eventually the town stopped trying. Then one day without any warning, Miss Emily died.
The “noblesse oblige” that Miss Emily has seemed to have forgotten comes around to affect the town’s—especially the “ladies’”—view of Miss Emily. After Miss Emily purchased the poison from the druggist, the town became overly preoccupied, even obsessed, with her and her relationship to Barron. Each of Miss Emily’s actions is held under great scrutiny by the town, and when Barron returns after a brief departure, the town is at last convinced, and much relieved, that their marriage will finally take place. No longer will Miss Emily be a “disgrace” and a "bad example.”
However, Faulkner continues to provide readers with ominous hints at Barron's fate. “And that was the last time we saw Homer Barron,” the narrator recounts and immediately thereafter recalls “that night when they sprinkled the lime.…” Barron's fate is effectively linked in this passage to the sprinkling of the lime and its evocation of death.
The theme of progress and change within the community is also once again addressed, this time in relation to Miss Emily’s refusal to allow the post office to attach a mail box and metal numbers to her door. As the town is taken over by a “newer generation,” Miss Emily continues to grow “grayer and grayer” until her hair becomes the “vigorous iron-gray” color that it would have at her death. And the description of Miss Emily’s hair being “iron-gray” will come to play an important role in the story.
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