A Rose for Emily
by William Faulkner
Tobe, first described as "an old man-servant – a combined gardener and cook" (1.1). He is an even more mysterious character than Emily, and, ironically, probably the only one who knows the answers to all the mysteries in the story. He's also a major connection to the theme "Compassion and Forgiveness." Read on to see what we mean.
Tobe gave his whole life to the care of Miss Emily. We don't know what kind of relationship they had beyond that of employer and servant, but there isn't any indication that either of them abused the other. Perhaps they have us all fooled, and there in the haunted old house they carried on a loving, caring relationship.
Whatever the case, we have to hand it to Tobe for taking care of Miss Emily for most of her life, and most of his (as we talk about in the next section). He also must have been the one to alert the town to both Emily's father's death, and also to her own death. Loyal and discreet, he protected her privacy from the prying eyes and ears of the town. This might be part of why he split after her death, to avoid having to divulge her secrets to the town. Of course, he probably also left because his duty was finally done, and he could escape the stinking, rotting crypt of a house.
The Tragedy of Tobe
In the section above, we speculate about Tobe. That analysis doesn't really get at the tragedy of his life. He was probably born around the same time as Emily (approximately 1861) and so was almost definitely born a slave, probably on a plantation that Emily's father may have owned.
Assuming he was born with the family or was with them from a young age, he stayed with them through the Civil War, and, as we have seen, through all the rest, too. As a black man in the South his options were limited, maybe even more limited than Emily's. Like her, he might have become convinced that the world outside that house was not the place for him. He might have felt intense loyalty to Miss Emily, and maybe even, like the town, an obligation to her. If they were raised together, they might easily have developed a kind of brother-sister relationship. Alternatively, he might have despised her, or been disgusted and horrified by her. He might have wished for her death. As a human being in a completely bizarre situation, he might have felt a complex tangle of all of those things, and more.