Study Guide

George Pemberton in Serena

By Ron Rash

George Pemberton

Pemberton is smart, dedicated, and knows the value of a good day's work. We learn that he worked out with the men for a month before kicking back in the office just to gain some good, old-fashioned respect. But before you start thinking you know this guy, let's be clear: Pemberton is more complicated than the do-gooder boy-next-door type. Don't be fooled.

Partner in Crime

When Pemberton brings his new wife home to North Carolina, everyone is taken aback. Serena doesn't dress or act like the other women in the town, and Pemberton's business partners and workers aren't sure they're comfortable with that.

Even though everyone around him is shell-shocked that a woman could wear pants or have a brain, Pemberton loves her for it. When Buchanan tells Serena to get lost because he wants to speak to her husband, Pemberton jumps in and says, "'My opinion is the same as my wife's'" (6.21), aligning his intellect with hers without missing a beat. He even introduces her to everyone as his business partner since they make all the decisions together.

As far as we can tell, the couple are equals. In a time of rigid gender roles, this is pretty progressive on Pemberton's part. Unfortunately, this doesn't exactly map out onto the rest of Pemberton's morals—things get dark quickly with this dude.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Murder

We first get a glimpse of Pemberton's more cutthroat side when Buchanan crosses Serena. We know the guy is done for, but even we are a little surprised that Pemberton has the guts to shoot him at point-blank range. When he reports the deed to his wife, he shows no sign of remorse:

"He's dead," Pemberton replied. "That's all that matters. It's over and done with and we've got all we wanted." (15.92)

Yep, that's ruthless all right. Pemberton doesn't care that he's just taken a life or that the guy used to be his friend. His attitude is pretty much hey, that wasn't the first murder and it won't be the last. Yikes. Everyone makes a big deal about how dark and twisty Serena is, but Pemberton certainly isn't innocent. He kills more people than his wife, and he doesn't care much about it either.

What Goes Around, Comes Around 

In the end, Pemberton gets a taste of his own medicine, rat poison style. When Galloway explains to him, "'She said to tell you she thought you the one man ever strong and pure enough to be her equaling, but you wanting that child alive showed the otherwise of that'" (37.84), the guy is stunned.

One thing's for sure: He doesn't see this coming. Pemberton is pretty blind when it comes to his wife and it ends up causing his demise. Since she's a murderous control freak, we would have thought he'd expect as much, but no dice. So when Pemberton tries to help his kid and Rachel get away from Serena, she easily does him in.

Before you go feeling sorry for the guy, remember this: He's filthy rich. He could have supported his son or done something to help from day one. Instead, he makes a Hail Mary pass at the end, and we're supposed to buy that he has good intentions? We don't doubt that he wanted to help save his son's life in the end, but we don't think that makes him a good guy either.

Like we said, he's complicated.