A Letter from Tobe
To the Town of Jefferson:
Assuming these thoughts will matter to you now although they seem too late, this release has been a long time coming and hopefully your mind will be as free as mine if you accept what I give. I’ve struggled everyday of my life after Ms. Emily. Living with Emily was more work for me than the actual work she had me do. Now this is not an implication that she treated me terribly, but getting to understand her psyche was difficult to take in; but it also awakened a big sense of sympathy within me too.
My devotion to Ms. Emily has caused me much loneliness, I’ve found no reason to laugh or smile. I’ve never been too fond of conversation anyhow and being Ms. Emily’s permanent worker didn’t allow me to be very social. Nights were somewhat darker than normal, and the days were always cold even in the high temperatures of summer. One day Ms. Emily had me waiting outside for her and a stranger asked me for directions. I opened my mouth to speak and realized it was not possible. I tried so hard and at that moment I realized that my voice had withered. I could only motion to the stranger, much to my displeasure. I didn’t know that it was possible for me to lose my voice from not using it.
I don’t even know if Ms. Emily realized that I couldn’t speak. I don’t know if she would care. She was in her own world. We had never once spoken to each other. She spoke at me and I did what was needed to be done. I was hired by her father, Mr. Grierson, many years before his death. The details of that are not clear now but I clearly remember his intention. He didn’t just want me to be a servant to his beloved daughter, but to protect her. There was a mental withdrawal once he passed away. She was not herself for a long time, and who would be? Town folk felt that her father was too protective and careful, but he was a good man, and he was a father to her; a real good father. I was already employed to be her helper but at the time I really wanted to put extra care into anything I did for her. I noticed she was changing. Her demeanor was slightly depressing, and I questioned her habits sometimes.
There were incidents, however where I felt her moments of mental torment had gone to extremes. On a night in the fall a year after her father died she had me go with her to a cemetery. I don’t know if she knew or not but it wasn’t the same one where her father was buried. She stood in front of a grave site and eventually kneeled in front of the tombstone. I kept my distance from her a bit, but I could see her very clearly. She got closer to the ground and it looked as if she was trying to dig into the ground. I was sure my eyes were deceiving me and I reacted late, I ran toward her but an officer in the distance had noticed her before me and got there quickly. We helped restrain her as she was hysterical and in tears. As we were leaving she blew kisses to the tombstone. That might have been the first detection I had of her necrophilia.
I’m sure you want to know about Homer Barron too. Now there’s not much I can tell you about him. I know as much as you know about who he is. Emily loved him, or maybe the idea of him; a male figure she could connect with intimately. She needed that male figure in her life, but in a sense her feelings were unrequited. It was this slight rejection that made her want to do something extreme. She wasn’t extreme by habit, but she was more of a cause and effect type of person. Her father not being there was like a missing puzzle piece that she was trying to replace, but instead she ended up jumbling it even more. This was when Emily started doing drastic things like getting arsenic rat poison to kill this man. I was only able to witness the after effects of that. I thought it was impossible to live to bear that scent of the dead man everyday. Often times I would make market trips for no reason just to escape it. Just knowing I was living with a dead person was traumatizing. I was not sure what Ms. Emily was doing with the body but then after a while I figured it out when I had terrible flashbacks of that graveyard incident.
After a while taking care of her got more difficult. We had both aged and she had been very ill. After I discovered she had been sleeping with Homer’s body it was hard to even look at her. She had stayed away from it after a while due to being bed-ridden most of the time, but there were times where she still tried. I figured I tried to accept Emily for who she was but there were times where it took it’s toll on me and Emily probably never cared. I wonder if she saw me as a human and if she ever thought of how her actions would affect me. When she died I left. I live alone and I write now to not go insane.
I cannot tell the whole story of Emily Grierson, for they would simply be too much to tell. I am sorry that she drove people away and I admit that she was deeply flawed. At the same time, Emily was human. She was insecure and often unhappy. There were many voids within her and no one could help her, even if she let them. I pity Homer Barron, and myself for living under such conditions. I cared for Ms. Emily and I did my best, but years of caring takes its emotional toll on you. Once I saw that she died I left a rose by the doorstep when I left. It was the only way I could say goodbye.
The Story Of Tobe & Emily Grierson.
William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” was written as a first person narrative with a distant narrator(s). The narrator never used “I” but instead used “we.” Retelling the story from a different perspective could definitely shed a closer light on a character as complex as Emily. The original story had little to no focus on the relationship between Emily and her servant, Tobe and my purpose in the retelling was to change that. The only way to do this was to have someone who was always close to her to tell their story, thus an exploratory first person narrative from the perspective of Tobe.
Tobe’s actual name is only mentioned one time in the story when the special meeting of the Board of Aldermen took place. We see that Emily is bothered by the presence of these men and their tax requests in her home and she calls for him to lead them away. “‘Tobe!’ The Negro appeared. ‘Show these gentlemen out.’” In the broader spectrum of this scene, this is where Tobe is first introduced as “the Negro” and he is called that throughout the story, but also that specific scene is the only time when he is spoken to directly. On the surface of this story one can argue that he plays a minor role but I would try to debate that argument by having him tell his version of Emily’s story in his own words. Although he might not have directly affected the dynamic of the story as say Homer Barron would, he was still with Emily all the time and was able to see things that might not have been included or noticed by the original narrator.
The information given in the original story about Tobe could work with this idea of revealing what might have been left out. One of the few things that are revealed about him Faulkner’s story is his inability to speak. However, a letter from his perspective allows us to get into his mind and see what more he could reveal about Emily and all the events that surround her. An example of this is a particular moment in the original story when the narrator mentions that there have been failed attempts to get information about Emily out of him. Faulkner writes, “we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro. He talked to no one, probably not even her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse.”
Tobe writes this letter knowing he has valuable information and thoughts to share, however from that opening sentence he shows a shadow of doubt concerning Emily’s present relevance. He wrote the letter after she died but the narrator of the original implied that they craved for any information on Emily while she was alive. She was the talk of the town every time they noticed something about her. “So THE NEXT day we all said ‘she will kill herself’; and we said it would be the best thing, When she had first begun to be seen with Homer Barron, we had said, ‘She will marry him.’”
An important element of Tobe’s letter is that he gives firsthand account of Emily’s reaction to major events that took place in her life as opposed to just the public reaction and speculation seen in the original. The letter shows that there is that extreme side to Emily that is described in Faulkner’s story but Tobe’s letter gives a bit of insight of what is behind it.
The original story speaks of an incident that occurred right after Mr. Grierson’s death where ministers and the ladies tried reaching out to Emily to help her cope with her grief and also to urge her to bury her father. Initially she denies his death, but then she breaks down and they bury Mr. Grierson’s body quickly. In that section there’s a quote that stuck out to me.“We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which robbed her, as people will.” This quote in the original shows a major side of Emily’s humanity and I intended for Tobe’s letter to expound on this theme. He writes in his letter that notices visible change in Emily once her father passes. He even gives an anecdote of an incident not mentioned in Faulkner’s story about her bizarre visit to a cemetery a year after Mr. Grierson’s death. Although she was not at her father’s grave site this experience had something to do with the loss of her father, the control he had over her, and I think it bridges the gap between one male figure (Mr. Grierson) to the next (Homer Barron.) According to the letter this scene he introduces Emily’s necrophilia existing because of her antics at the grave site. “She got closer to the ground and it looked as if she was trying to dig into the ground. I was sure my eyes were deceiving me and I reacted late, I ran toward her but an officer in the distance had noticed her before me and got there quickly. We helped restrain her as she was hysterical and in tears. As we were leaving she blew kisses to the tombstone. That might have been the first detection I had of her necrophilia. ”
Tobe reveals his relationship (or lack thereof) with Emily. In the same quote from the original story that I mentioned earlier that stated that Tobe didn’t even talk to Emily and he confirms that assumption. He writes, “I don’t even know if Ms. Emily realized that I couldn’t speak. I don’t know if she would care. She was in her own world. We had never once spoken to each other. She spoke at me and I did what was needed to be done.”
One thing that isn’t explicit in any of the two tellings is why Tobe and Emily never built a verbal relationship, but some sort of relationship is there. He stayed with Emily through her many phases, antics, and illnesses. He was there until he also grew very old and grey. Even if the relationship between Tobe and Emily was not like a friendship but strictly professional, it was long lasting and it lasted until her death when he leaves. He ends the letter speaking of her death and leaving the rose on a step as he made his final departure. Through this retelling I wanted to bring some significance to the rose mentioned in the original title. This letter doesn’t cover as much historical information as the original story but I aimed to make the letter seem more personal and highlight the servant more and make him seem more human as well. The relationship between him and Emily did hold relevance in my opinion because of the lived experience he had with her and the understanding he had of who she was.