Study Guide

Tobe in A Rose for Emily

By William Faulkner

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Miss Emily is a tragic figure...but there's no one in "A Rose For Emily" that takes the gold medal for tragedy like Tobe. Take a moment to check out Miss Emily's "Character Analysis" and then come back here.

Back? Great.

So: the tragedy of Miss Emily hinges on the fact that she's caught in a veritable pressure cooker of repression. Her father, the townsfolk, and society at large all join forces to make sure she's trapped: first as a daughter, then as a spinster. The fact that she becomes nuttier than a fruitcake is at least partially to blame on these factors. After all, she really has no choice in how she could live her life. She's a woman in the turn-of-the-century South; society has her completely on lockdown.

But Tobe's situation is like Miss Emily's times a zillion: he's her "old man-servant – a combined gardener and cook" (1.1). And he's Black. In the South. In an era when people are still showing up to funerals "in their brushed Confederate uniforms […]" (5.2).

Yup: if anyone in "A Rose For Emily" is worthy of our sympathy, it's Tobe.

Tobe gave his whole life to the care of Miss Emily. He protected her privacy from the prying eyes and ears of the town—in fact, for most of Miss Emily's life, Tobe is her only tenuous connection to the outside world. It's through Tobe that Miss Emily survives: he is, quite literally, the only reason she has food to eat:

[...] and the only sign of life about the place was the N**** man – a young man then – going in and out with a market basket. (2.1)

We assume that Tobe must have been the one to inform the town when Miss Emily died.

But besides the fact that Tobe keeps Emily alive and (sort of) well, we're not given a whole lot of information about Tobe. His complicity in the murder of Homer Barron and the gruesome vigil that Emily keeps at Homer Barron's bedside is never mentioned...although he most likely knew about the moldering corpse in the upstairs bedroom.

He splits town immediately after Emily's death—either to avoid having to divulge her secrets to the town, or because his duty was finally done and he could escape the stinking, rotting crypt of a house. We can't say we blame him, either way.

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