A Rose for Emily Characters

  • Miss Emily Grierson is a reclusive Southern belle harboring a gruesome secret.

  • Homer Barron was a foreman who had a brief relationship with Emily before mysteriously disappearing.
  • Emily’s father was a proud, aristocratic man who chased away his daughter’s suitors because they weren’t good enough for her.

  • Colonel Sartoris was a mayor of Jefferson and exempted Emily from paying taxes.


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Emily Grierson

Emily Grierson, whose death is recounted at the beginning of the story, was an aged Southern belle and the last surviving member of an aristocratic family living in the antebellum South. Emily’s father kept her cloistered for much of her youth. Upon the death of her father, she was left penniless and alone, an outsider with no friends and no marriage prospects. Emily was alternately pitied and scorned by the people of Jefferson. She ultimately failed to overcome her isolated upbringing and became the town eccentric.

Emily had a brief romance with a Northern day worker named Homer Barron. After their relationship ended in his apparent abandonment of her, she secluded herself entirely. After Emily’s death, and her house is investigated. What appears to have been an open secret among the townspeople is revealed: Homer’s decaying body had been kept in a bed in Emily’s house for nearly forty years. (Read extended character analysis of Emily Grierson.)

Homer Barron

Homer Barron was a Northern laborer who came to Jefferson to help pave the sidewalks. Though the younger citizens of Jefferson dismissed his status as a Northerner, they came to appreciate Homer’s charisma and sense of humor. At first, his relationship with Emily was a source of amusement and delight for the townspeople, but many objected to the match on account of the drastic difference in social status. (Read extended character analysis of Homer Barron.)

Mr. Grierson

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Mr. Grierson was Emily’s overbearing father. The townspeople view the Grierson family as a “tableau”—more relics of the Old South than actual people. During Emily’s youth, her father rejected her aspirant suitors on account of their not being “good enough,” condemning her to a life of lonely spinsterhood after his death. Emily initially refused to acknowledge his death, only breaking down with grief after several days of being hounded by ministers.

The townspeople were sympathetic toward Emily’s plight. They said that she would “cling to what had robbed her” on account of having nothing else meaningful in her life. Emily never seems to fully escape Mr. Grierson’s domineering presence. A portrait of him continued to loom over the parlor after his death, a symbol of his continued control of Emily’s interactions. The same portrait is brought to her funeral, indicating that Emily is unable to escape her father’s influence even in death.

Colonel Sartoris

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Colonel Sartoris was the mayor of Jefferson at the time of Mr. Grierson’s death. He invented a story about a loan Mr. Grierson once gave to the city. As a kindness to the Emily, left destitute after her father’s death, Sartoris exempted her of having to pay taxes and cited the story of the loan as a justification of the exemption.

Colonel Sartoris represents traditional Southern values and codes of honor. Rather than allowing Emily, an upper-class woman, to have to work or accept charity, Sartoris devised a strategy that benefitted Emily without embarrassing her. Colonel Sartoris’s indulgence of Emily was later challenged by the younger generations of politicians, who attempted to modernize with a federal mail service. When they wanted to include Emily, she rebuffed them.

Colonel Sartoris is a recurring character in William Faulkner’s works, specifically the novel Sartoris. He is a member of the once-prominent Sartoris family, members of the old Southern aristocracy who find themselves displaced after the Civil War.


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Tobe was Emily’s “combined gardener and cook” and her only human contact for most of her later life. He served as Emily’s “manservant,” shopping at the market, escorting guests in the home, and likely caring for Emily as she aged. However, it is unlikely that they were true companions, for, as the narrator remarks that at the time of Emily’s death, Tobe’s voice is “harsh and rusty, as if from disuse.”

The townsfolk were quick to blame the smell from Emily’s house on Tobe’s poor housekeeping skills. They pestered him for details about Emily during his outings, but he refused to divulge any information. Tobe represents the remnants of oppression and slavery that still pervaded the turn-of-the-century South. There were very few employment opportunities for Black men in the antebellum South outside of labor or service, and Tobe likely stayed with Emily out of a combination of pity and a lack of better options. After Emily’s death, Tobe leaves Jefferson and never returns.

The Cousins

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The cousins were estranged relations of Emily’s. They arrived in Jefferson after the Baptist minister’s wife contacted them about Emily’s relationship with Homer Barron. Though at first, the locals welcomed them for their attempts to disrupt the romance between Homer and Emily, the cousins quickly became a nuisance to both Emily and the townsfolk.

Judge Stevens

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Judge Stevens was a member of the older generation of Southerners who still held to traditional values about social decorum and status. After some of the younger townsfolk asked him to do something about the horrible smell emanating from Emily’s house, he exasperatedly chastised them for so much as thinking to confront an aristocratic lady like Emily about “smelling bad.”

Old Lady Wyatt

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Old lady Wyatt was Emily’s great-aunt, who died prior to the events of the story. Allegedly, she was “crazy,” and the townspeople seem to believe that mental instability runs in the Grierson family.

The Baptist Minister and Wife

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When Emily and Homer began to court in public, some of the locals felt that the unconventional pair would set a bad example for the children. They approached the Baptist minister and asked him to speak with Emily. He did so but was unsuccessful in breaking the pair up. He also refused to tell anyone how the conversation went. The minister’s wife then decided to reach out to Emily’s estranged family in Alabama in the hope that they would intervene in Emily and Homer’s relationship.

The Druggist

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The druggist supplied Emily with the arsenic that she ostensibly used to murder Homer Barron. Rather than forcing Emily to tell him what she planned to use the rat poison for, as was custom, he gave it to her unquestioningly as a show of respect, assuming that she was killing rats.

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Emily Grierson