The Death of Miss Emily Grierson “A Mystery”The death of Miss Emily Grierson, was it “A Mystery”, was this woman so mysterious that everybody in the community had to come visit her at death. The men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant – a combined gardener and cook – had seen in at least ten years (Faulkner 55). The house was described as being a big squarish house that was slowly decaying. It reminded the town of the seventies and was said to be “an eyesore among eyesores” (55).
The voice of the town identifies Emily as a “tradition a duty, and a care”. The men and women of the town act differently to Miss Emily. A sort of hereditary obligation that triggers a memory. In 1894 when Colonel Sartoris had remitted her taxes, but generations change within the story, and their values differ. So the next generation, feeling no hereditary obligation attempts to collect these reportedly remitted taxes.
The encounter between the next generation with its more modern ideas and the aged Miss Emily gives the first visual details of the inside of the house and of her. Inside was a dusty, dank desolate realm dominated by the presence of the crayon portrait of her father. Miss Emily was described as a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare: perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough (55). In the confrontation between the generations when she speaks defiantly to community representatives, her taxes remain uncollected, and she triumphs.
This conquest of the modern generation reminds the narrator of an earlier battle
when she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell. You’re directed toward the battle language – “vanquished, horse and foot” and in recalling the early images of Miss Emily in her 30’s. The first scene features Miss Emily “two years after her father’s death” and shortly after her sweetheart deserted her as the town interferes after townspeople complain about “the smell.” Four townspeople reduced to the roles of nighttime prowlers, “slunk” around Miss Emily’s house and “sling” lime. Creeping away, they see Miss Emily silhouetted in the window, “her upright torso motionless as that of an idol,” ever dominating the community.
The narrator goes into great details to position the setting and describe the traits of Miss Emily keeping her “a mystery”. What is a mystery? “A mystery is something not understood or beyond understanding: enigmatic quality or character: a work of fiction dealing with the solution if a mysterious crime” (Merriam Webster Dictionary 486).
The narrator then relates how the townspeople perceived the Grierson family from the past. We had long thought of them as tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door (57). This is the silent and motionless scene of how the townspeople remembered the family from the past. When her father died and left her penniless, people were glad they could pity her. The unemotional Miss Emily clings to her father for 3 days then breaks down and they bury him. Why was Miss Emily so possessive of her father’s body? What was she planning on doing with him? The town did not say she was crazy then, they believed she had to do it. They remembered all of the young men her father had driven away, and they knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her.
For a long period after her father’s death Miss Emily was sick and remained in solitude, when she reappears she appears girlish. In the summer after her father’s death she is seen by the townspeople with a Yankee day laborer driving in the yellow-wheeled buggy on Sunday afternoons. The older townspeople thought that even with Miss Emily’s grief, she couldn’t forget that she came from a family of a higher social position than to date a northern Yankee. Still the townspeople say “Poor Emily” declaring her “fallen” from the high Grierson perch. They felt that her kinfolk’s should be notified to intervene with this supposed affair.
Next Miss Emily goes to the town druggist to buy poison. The narrator describes her as “a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye-sockets as imagine a lighthouse-keeper’s face ought to look” (58). She wants poison, “the best” – “arsenic”. The narrator wants you to focus on her appearance, what is she thinking? The townspeople knew of the purchase and thought that “She will kill herself” which they said it would be the best thing. When she first began seeing Homer Barron they said, “She will marry him” they said “she will persuade him yet”, because Homer himself said he liked men. The ladies of the town forced the Baptist minister to call upon her, but then he refused to return after one visit. Then Homer disappears from town returning only once and was seen by a neighbor being admitted through the kitchen door. And that was the last the townspeople saw of Homer Barron. And of Miss Emily for some time.
The next time they saw Miss Emily, she was fat and her hair was turning gray. When Miss Emily was fortyish, she begins teaching china painting, but after six or seven years the front door was closed after the last student and remained closed for good. The final images of Miss Emily could be seen in one of the downstairs windows, she had evidently shut up the top floor of the house, “like the carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us, we could never tell which” (59). “Thus she passed from generation to generation – dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse” (59).
The narrator describes her as being a “mysterious” woman describing details of events and images of her when being seen until she dies. The narrator returns to the beginning of the story to the scene of the funeral. The two female cousins came to town and held the funeral on the second day. The ladies were “sibilant and macabre” and the old men were wearing their confederate uniforms.They waited until they buried her before they decided to enter her bridal room that has not been seen in forty years. The door had to be forced open, “A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things” (60).
The narrator is describing this to be the bridal room of when she courted Homer Barron.
And then they announce that a man himself lay in the bed. Then we notice on the other pillow a strand of gray hair. The narrator’s tone enhances the mystery as the readers become detectives and use the clues in the time table presented.