At a Glance

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

  • Homer Barron is a foreman who has a brief relationship with Emily before mysteriously disappearing.
  • Emily's father is a proud, aristocratic man who chases away his daughter's suitors because they aren't good enough for her.

  • Colonel Sartoris is the mayor of Jefferson and exempts Emily from paying taxes.

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Characters

Emily Grierson

Emily Grierson, an aged Southern belle, is the last surviving member of an aristocratic family living in the antebellum South. Emily’s father keeps her cloistered for much of her youth. After the death of her father, she is left penniless and alone, an outsider with no friends and no marriage prospects. Emily is alternately pitied and scorned by the people of Jefferson. She ultimately fails to overcome her isolated upbringing and becomes the town eccentric. Emily has a brief romance with a Northern day worker named Homer Barron. After their relationship ends in his apparent abandonment of her, she secludes herself entirely. At the end of the story, Emily dies, and her house is investigated. What appears to have been an open secret amongst the townspeople is revealed: Homer’s decaying body has been kept in a bed in Emily’s house for nearly forty years. (Read extended character analysis of Emily Grierson.)

Homer Barron

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

Mr. Grierson

Mr. Grierson is 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 rejects her aspirant suitors on account of their not being “good enough,” condemning her to a life of lonely spinsterhood after his death. Emily initially refuses to acknowledge his death, only breaking down with grief after several days of being hounded by ministers.

The townspeople are sympathetic towards Emily's plight. They say 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 looms over the parlor, 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

Colonel Sartoris is the mayor of Jefferson at the time of Mr. Grierson’s death. He invents a story about a loan Mr. Grierson once gave to the city. As a kindness to the now-destitute Emily, Sartoris exempts her of having to pay taxes and cites the story of the loan as a justification of the exemption.

Colonel Sartoris represents traditional Southern values and codes of honor. Rather than allow Emily, an upper-class woman, to have to work or accept charity, Sartoris devises a strategy that benefits Emily without embarrassing her. Colonel Sartoris’s indulgence of Emily is challenged by the younger generations of politicians, who attempt to modernize with a federal mail service. When they attempt to include Emily, she rebuffs 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.

Tobe

Tobe is Emily’s “combined gardener and cook” and her only human contact for most of her later life. He serves as Emily’s “manservant,” shopping at the market, escorting guests in the home, and likely caring for Emily as she ages. However, it is unlikely that they...

(The entire section is 1,009 words.)