Emily is the classic outsider, limiting and controlling the townspeople's access to her true identity and remaining hidden. The house that harbors Emily from the world represents the mind of the woman who lives in it: dark, dusty, and closed. She is the subject of the town's intense speculations and is a quiet and mysterious person. On one level, she displays characteristics of the stereotypical Southern "eccentric": unstable, overly tragic, and inclined to bizarre behavior. Emily executes her sense of law and manners, such as when she refuses to pay taxes or note the purpose of buying poison. Emily also avoids the law when she rejects having house numbers when the Federal Postal Service is established. Her refusal of the law eventually takes on more sinister consequences.
The narrator describes Emily as a monument, but she is simultaneously tragic and often annoying, demanding that she lives life on her terms.
"They rose when she entered--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 as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand."
The subject of talk and speculation, the townspeople cluck their tongues at the fact that she accepts Homer's attention without any plans for marriage. After she buys the poison, the townspeople think that she will kill herself. Emily's instability, nevertheless, takes her in a different direction, and the last scene of the story implies that she is a necrophiliac. Necrophilia usually means sexual attraction to dead bodies. More broadly, the term also represents a strong desire to control another, usually in the context of a romantic or intimate relationship. Necrophiles tend to be so controlling of their relationships that they end up resorting to binding themselves to unresponsive bodies without resistance or volition - in other words, dead bodies. Mr. Grierson controlled Emily, and after his death, Emily temporarily controls him by refusing to hand over his dead body. She ends up moving that control to Homer, the object of her love. Not able to find a traditional way to express her desire to possess Homer, Emily kills him to get complete control over him.
Just like Emily, Homer is an outsider, a stranger in the city who becomes the subject of gossip. Nevertheless, unlike Emily, Homer stumbles into a town full of charm and at first, becomes the center of attention.
"Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group."
Some of the townspeople do not trust him because he is a Northerner. Since townspeople consider Emily to be a member of the upper social class, some of them think of his Sunday outings with Emily as highly scandalous. Homer's failure to marry Emily encourages suspicion and speculation. He dates younger men at the Elks Club, and the narrator describes him as either gay or simply an endless bachelor, committed to single status and uninterested in marriage. Homer only says that he is "not a marriageable man."
As the foreman of a company that has come to town to pave the sidewalks, Homer is a symbol of the North and the changes that have ruined the once insular and sophisticated world of the South. With his machinery, Homer represents modernity and mechanization, the force of progress that destroys traditional values and causes antagonism and alarm among traditionalists. The change Homer brings to Emily's life, as her first true love, is just as deep, sealing his dark fate as a victim of her plan to keep him with her forever.
Mayor of Jefferson. An octogenarian, Judge Stevens is trying to delicately deal with complaints about the stench originating from the Grierson house. To honor Emily's pride and former position in the community, he and the councilors arrange to whitewash the property in the middle of the night.
Emily's father. Mr. Grierson is a controlling, fearful presence even in death, and the community sees his ongoing influence on Emily. He intentionally prevents Emily's attempt to find a husband to keep her under his control. Throughout the story, we see him in a crayon portrait kept on a gilt-edged easel in the drawing room, and outlined in the doorway, holding his whip in his hand, after he has driven away another of Emily's suitors.
"None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a 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. So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated; even with insanity in the family she wouldn't have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized."
Emily's servant. Tobe, whose voice is said to have rusted from inactivity, is the only salvation Emily has for the outside world. For years, he has conscientiously taken care of her and her needs. Finally, the townspeople stop asking him for information about Emily. After Emily's death, he goes out the back door and never comes back.
Former mayor of Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris clears Emily of all tax burdens after her father's death. His elegant and warm gesture is not ignored by the next generation of city leaders.
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