The ‘Short Stories’ unit focuses on close reading for understanding and recognition
of structures and features of the short story. Responses to several texts and further
analysis leads to a challenging writing task. You will have the opportunity to
demonstrate a range of Levels from the reading and writing strands.
A short story is:
fictional (made up, imaginary, not factual)
prose (text without strict rhyme, rhythm or repetition)
narrative (tells a story, relays a series of events)
divided into paragraphs (not stanzas or chapters)
brief enough to be read in one sitting
has an exposition (beginning), middle (development of action and conflict), climax and resolution
usually only 2-3 characters as there is little time for character development
usually only one main setting
internal, external or environmental conflicts which usually involve the main character
A short story, like other texts, is carefully constructed. The author very deliberately selects narrative point of view, setting, characters and language to shape the text and encourage the reader to respond in a particular way.
When reading short stories, you need to consider the following:
Setting: the time and place in which a story unfolds
Where is the story set (time and place)?
How does the setting affect the reader’s response to the story?
Is the setting an integral part of the story? Does it have symbolic significance? Are the descriptions detailed? Is figurative language used?
Does the writer go into great detail, foregrounding landscapes or cityscapes (carefully choosing words, perhaps even metaphor, to create atmosphere) that seem to place importance on it.
Characterisation: a person (or anything represented as a person) in a literary work
How are the characters constructed in the text? What do they say and do and what do others say & think about them? Consider their appearance, personality, behaviours, values & attitude.
How is the reader encouraged to respond to the characters, their actions and beliefs?
What type of language is used in describing them and how does the way they use language (dialogue) shape the reader’s judgements on their social class, race, age?
Narrative Point of View: narrative point of view: the perspective from which the story is told
All stories are carefully crafted constructs. NPOV is an important element in constructing perspective, because it determines the inclusion and exclusion of differing viewpoints, shaping our responses.
Who is telling the story? First, second or third person narrative point of view? Is there shifting or multiple narrators? Is the narrator reliable, fallible, intrusive, omniscient, naive, self-conscious? Is the narrative told in retrospective? Does it employ dramatic irony (where the reader knows more than the narrator)? What is the narrator’s relationship with other characters?
How does the narrator’s perspective affect the way the reader perceives the action / characters, etc. in the text? What values and attitudes are endorsed / criticised through the narrator? Do you respond with sympathy or not to the narrator and their values?
Structure the sequence of events in a narrative
Consider the development of a central problem / conflict and how this is resolved
Does the story move in chronological order or is it more fragmented? Does it use flashbacks? Is it clearly divided into sections?
Does the story use archetypal narrative structures, rely on motifs and other common features of construction?
Consider the development of suspense, atmosphere, tension, etc.
Genre: category or type of text
Each genre has its own set of conventions or features.
Consider what these are and how the story conforms to, or subverts, the conventions of its genre. Also consider the values embedded in the genre and how you are encouraged to respond to the story.
Language: the selection of words, descriptions and length of sentences create particular pace, sounds, rhythms, mood, tension and atmosphere:
When analysing short stories you need to look carefully at the language used. Consider the style of writing, word choices, metaphorical language, dialogue.
Words create meaning (no words are neutral); they drive the plot of the story and create specific effects, mood, tension and atmosphere. When reading look for patterns, learn new terms, notice the rhythm, tone, sound etc.
Consider the connotations or associations of the words used and the cultural assumptions embedded in the words.
Representation: the way information is re-presented in texts
Consider the representations of individuals, groups, institutions, etc. in the story, the use of stereotypes, cultural assumptions, and the values embedded in those representations, and the construction of dominant / resistant readings.
Creation of Detail: the information included and excluded from the text
all texts could be summarised to a brief plot line and a few lines about characters, however literary texts are more than simply this.
Ask why certain details are included - emphasised, privileged?
What detail is omitted, silenced, marginalised? Why are these choices made?
What is their effect and significance to the themes, values of a story? Be aware that all texts have gaps and silences and as readers we need to examine these carefully and consider what they are and why they exist in the text.
Symbolism: when a particular meaning is attached to an object, person or situation
Some objects in texts often come to embody meaning beyond their literal significance. This is apparent if time is spent describing these in detail or are repeated. Landscapes and setting may be symbolic, reflecting a character’s state of mind.
Consider the symbols used, their effect on the story and their effect on your understanding of the story, its themes, settings and characters.
Themes and Issues: the main ideas (issues are controversial) explored in a text
Consider the main ideas explored and how the construction and presentation of the text shapes the viewer’s response to the particular themes and issues.
Consider thematic relevance: subjects related to your own life: current social issues, personal issues, use of archetypal issues.
Values and Attitudes: socially constructed beliefs that make up our belief system and guide our behaviour.
Many values and attitudes are implicit and embedded, rather than overtly or explicitly stated.
As readers, we need to consider what the central themes / issues are in the text and how the reader responds to them. Also what values and attitudes are supported or criticised in the story and the insights or comments made by the story about life or a theme / issue.
Context: the factors which shape the meanings of a text within the social framework of its writing / reading.
Consider the time and place of the short story’s production and reading, the social, historical and cultural factors which have influenced the text / author / reader. The issues of concern to people at the time the text was produced and read, the dominant values and attitudes which underpin the text, your reading of the text, your values, events taking place, the text’s country of origin, international relevance, the exploration of contemporary and longer lasting issues.
Cultural assumptions: the accepted beliefs, values, practices and products of a culture
Consider the cultural assumptions operating in the short story (such as gender, class, race) and how these affect your understanding of the story’s characters, settings, themes, values.
Tone: the attitude of the author towards the subject matter of the text.
Consider the tone of the story and how it influences your response to the narrative, characters, issues, values and attitudes embedded in the text.
Satire: a form of writing where the main purpose is to attack some fault, pretension or hypocrisy shown by a person, group, society.
What is being satirised in the text? (if appropriate) How is the satire employed? How does it influence your response to the characters, issues, values in the text?
Intertextuality: making links between texts to enhance the reading process.
Make intertextual links with other texts you have read and viewed - characters, issues, values, representations, cultural narratives, setting, language, etc.
How does this knowledge enhance your understanding of the text?
Cultural Narratives: narratives that make sense of ourselves and our culture and therefore narratives which everyone in a particular society ‘knows’.
Consider the cultural narratives employed in the story and why the author has employed such narratives. What values and attitudes are embedded in these narratives?
In summary Basic Short Story Elements
The people and their motives that are revealed through actions and dialogue
What happens in the story, the events and conversations
The place and time in which the story is set
The main idea or message the writer wants the reader to respond to
Introducing the story amd setting the scene
Where the action has built up to the high point or most exciting point of the story
Where the action or conflict is resolved and comes to a conclusion (sometimes in an exexpectd way)
The way the writer tells a story, including point of view, sentence structure, imagery and symbolism
On the Train- Olga Masters
The young woman, not more than twenty-seven, slammed the gate on herself and the two children, both girls.
She did not move off at once but looked up and down the street as if deciding which way to go.
The older girl looked up at her through her hair which was whipped by the wind to read the decision the moment she made it.
Finally the woman took a hand of each child and turned in the direction of the railway station.
‘Oh goody!!’ cried Sara who was nearly five.
‘The sun’s out,’ the woman murmured lifting her face up for a second towards it.
Sara looked again into her mother’s face noticing two or three of her teeth pinning down her bottom lip and the glint in her eyes, perhaps from the sun? She felt inadequate that she seldom noticed things such as sun and wind, barely bothering about the rain as well, being quite content to stay out and play in it. The weather appeared to figure largely in the lives of adults. Sara hoped this would work out for her when she was older.
The mother bent forward as she hurried the younger child Lisa having difficulties keeping up. Her face, Sara saw, looked strained like her mother’s. Sara hoped she wouldn’t complain. The glint in the mother’s eyes was like a spark that could ignite and involve them all.
She saw with relief the roof of the station jutting above the street but flashed her eyes away from the buildings still to be passed before they reached it.
The ticket office was protected by the jutting roof.
Sara was glad of the rest while her mother had her head inside the window and laid her cheek against her rump, clad in a blue denim skirt.
The business of buying tickets went on for a long time. Sara’s eyes conveyed to Lisa her fear that the mother’s top half had disappeared forever inside the window. She clutched her skirt to drag her out and opened her mouth to scream. Lisa saw and screamed for her.
The mother flung both arms down brushing a child off with each. They dared not touch her when she turned around and separated the tickets from change in her purse.
She snapped it shut and looked up and around in a distracted way as if to establish where she was.
It was Sara who went in front taking the narrow path squeezed between a high fence on one side and the station wall on the other. She swung her head around to see that her mother and Lisa were following her bouncy confident step.
On the platform waiting for the train the few other passengers looked at them.
Sara’s dress was long and her hair was long and she was not dressed warmly enough.
The people especially a couple of elderly women noted Sara’s light cotton dress with a deep flounce at the hem and Lisa’s skimpy skirt and fawn tights. They looked at the mother’s hands to see if there was a bag hanging from them with cardigans or jumpers in. But the mother carried nothing but a leather shoulder bag about as large as a large envelope and quite flat.
‘She’s warm enough herself,’ one of the women murmured to her companion with a sniff.
They watched them board the train noticing the mother did not turn her head when she stepped onto the platform. It was Sara who grasped the hand of Lisa and saw her safely onto the platform.
‘Tsk, tsk,” said the watching woman, wishing she could meet the mother’s eyes and glare her disapproval.
The mother took a single seat near the aisle and let Sara and Lisa find one together across from her.
Dear little soul, thought the passenger on the seat facing them seeing Sara’s face suffused with pleasure at her small victory. Lisa had to wiggle her bony little rump with legs stuck out stiffly to get onto the seat.
Sara read the passenger’s thoughts.
“She doesn’t like you helping,” she said.
This was almost too much for the passenger whose glance leapt towards the mother to share with her this piece of childish wisdom.
But the mother had her profile raised and her eyes slanted away towards the window. The skin spread over her cheekbones made the passenger think of pale honey spread on a slice of bread.
She’s beautiful. The woman was surprised at herself for not having noticed it at once.
She returned her attention rather reluctantly to Sara and Lisa.
She searched their faces for some resemblance to the mother. Sara’s was round with blue worried eyes under faint eyebrows. Lisa’s was pale with a pinched look and blue veins at the edge of her eyebrows disappearing under a woollen cap with a ragged tassel that looked as if a kitten had wrestled with it.
The passenger thought they might look like their father putting him into a category unworthy of the handsome mother.
For the next twenty minutes the train alternated between a rocking tearing speed and dawdling within sight of one of the half dozen stations on the way to the city and the passenger alternated her attention between the girls and the mother although at times she indulged in a fancy that she was not their mother but someone minding them.
“I can move and your mummy sit here,” she said to Sara with sudden inspiration.
I’ll find out for sure.
Sara put her head against the seat back, cupping her face and closing her eyes with pink coming into her cheeks.
The passenger looked to Lisa for an answer and Lisa turned her eyes towards her mother seeing only her profile and the long peaked collar of her blouse lying on her honey coloured sweater.
Lisa looked into the passenger’s face and gave her head the smallest shake.
Poor little soul.
The passenger stared at the mother knowing in the end she would look back.
The mother did her eyes widening for a second under bluish lids with only a little of her brow visible under a thick bang of hair. There was nothing friendly in her face.
The passenger reddened and looked at the girls.
“Your mummy’s so pretty,” she said.
Sara swung her head around to look at the mother and Lisa allowed herself a tiny smile as if it didn’t need verification.
“Do you like having a pretty mummy?” the passenger asked.
The mother had tuned her attention to the window again and her eyes had narrowed.
The passenger felt as if a door had been shut in her face. “Are you going into the city for the day?” she said to the girls.
Sara pressed her lips together as if she couldn’t answer if she wanted to. Lisa’s mouth opened losing its prettiness and turning into an uneven hole.
There’s nothing attractive about either of them, thought the passenger, deciding that Lisa might be slightly cross-eyed.
She sat with her handbag gripped on her knees and her red face flushed a deeper red and her brown eyes with flecks of red in the whites were flint-hard when they darted between the mother and the girls and vacant when they looked away.
After a moment the mother turned her head and stared into the passenger’s face. The girls raised their eyes and looked too. The mother’s eyes, although large and blue and without light were the snake’s eyes mesmerising those of the passenger. Sara swung her eyes from the passenger to the mother as if trying to protect one from the other. Lisa’s face grew tight and white and she opened her small hole of a mouth but no sound came out.
The mother keeping her eyes on the passenger got up suddenly and checked the location through the window. Sara and Lisa stumbled into the aisle holding out frantic fingers but afraid to touch her. Sara stood under her mother’s rump as close as she dared her eyes turned back to see Lisa holding the seat end. The train swayed and clanged the last hundred yards slowing and sliding like a skier at the bottom of a snow peak stopping with a suddenness that flung Sara and Lisa together across the seat end.
This was fortunate.
The mother, level with the passenger now leaned down and sparks from her eyes flew off the hard flat stones of the passenger’s eyes.
“I’m going to kill them,” the mother said.
The author challenges Western cultural values in this text. Reflect on your
knowledge and experience of ‘family’ (context). How is ‘family’ represented
as a social construct in the text?
‘On the Train’ analysis
‘On the Train’ by Olga Masters is quite a simple story of a mother and her children on a brief train trip. However within this seemingly simplistic plot important issues related to gender stereotypes and social roles are interrogated. The main theme that the story explores is concerned with the social expectations of motherhood, critiquing the stereotype that motherhood is always a wonderful, fulfilling experience and that mothers who do not overtly display affection, attentiveness and maternal care are ‘bad women’. This represents the central values in the text, with the story criticising the traditional assumptions underpinning the way mothers should behave, showing the elderly woman who reflects the dominant values of gender, motherhood and family as narrow minded and in fact not concerned for the children’s welfare, but with putting across her own small-minded, moralistic views.
These themes and values are conveyed in the story through a range of techniques that construct the characters and events in particular ways. Stories are essentially the way language is used to construct characters and the events that occur. These are integral, in fact indispensable, in shaping the themes and values in ‘On the Train’.
The use of language and choice of words present an attitude towards the mother that constructs the mother to seem uncaring and temperamental at the start of the story. She ‘slammed’ the gate’, and is described as having ‘two or three teeth pinning down her bottom lip’, her face ‘strained’ and is seen as volatile: ‘The glint in the mother’s eyes was like a spark that could ignite and involve them all.’
All these descriptions through the use of language, choosing to include these events and selecting only the young girl Sara’s point of view, show a mother who finds little joy in motherhood positioning the reader to see her in a negative light. However, with the introduction of two elderly women on the train this reading shifts as their busybody attitudes seem far more harmful. The dialogue used, as well as the choice of narrator, is presenting them in a particular way that shows a clear contrast and forces the reader to see the mother’s position although she is not given a voice. The elderly women represent the conventional values of society. They are intrusive and judgemental, quickly criticising the mother as she doesn’t seem to show enough care for her children. One makes comments like ‘She’s warm enough herself’, said with a ‘sniff’, signifying their haughty, self righteous attitudes, and they are preoccupied with making eye contact with the mother to show their view. This view is not one of concern and care, but is primarily to do with airing their own narrow minded beliefs.
Moreover, as the story progresses it shows that the elderly woman is preoccupied with appearances, giving no time to ponder the deeper, complex circumstances that make up life. They judge the mother on her children’s clothes, note that she is ‘beautiful’ and then are critical of the children’s physical looks: ‘There’s nothing attractive about either of them, thought the passenger deciding that Lisa might be slightly crossed-eyed.’ This detail, especially choosing the image of being cross-eyed is derogatory and certainly in contrast to the attitude that she is worried about them.
The descriptions of the mother when seen in contrast to the elderly women are not as negative. She is a tired mother who is stressed by the demands of motherhood while the women are simply nasty, superficial and self righteous. The mother might be seen as having ‘snake’s eyes mesmerising those of the passenger’, but this is only for the passenger and she does not do anything harmful to the children. The passenger’s eyes are shown as ‘flint hard when they darted between the mother and the girls and vacant when they looked away. This symbolically represents the extremes of the elderly woman’s attitudes. She is quick to make judgements and show her disdain, but is quite vacant otherwise, showing a lack of thought or perception displayed throughout. This image of stone is repeated in the final section where the woman is shown to have ‘stone eyes’, again an image that comments on her lack of compassion or flexibility in thought.
The closing lines, relaying the mother’s only spoken words, are ‘I’m going to kill them’, are sarcastic and reveals how tired she is with having to meet the expectations of society as represented by the interfering passengers. These expectations are alienating for the mother as they do acknowledge the difficulties of the job and simply demonise women who fail to put on the appearance of a caring and attentive mother. The old women may well look nice, harmless women concerned with how the children are treated but they are revealed as having no real concern. This again serves to criticise the values of the elderly woman which are associated with the dominant ideology and in turn supports a set of values that are more flexible and fluid in understanding the role of motherhood.
The setting in the story is of importance as the train trip creates a sense of enclosure and entrapment that the mother feels. This symbolises both her attitude to motherhood and the way society and its expectations condemn her. During her time on the train the mother looks constantly out the window, perhaps yearning the freedom that it offers and she sits alone on a single seat, again showing her isolation from that sense of caring and community that she is meant to value.
The narrative point of view is third person omniscient, that shifts to the thoughts of the girl Sara in parts. It is through Sara that we learn about her mother from a young girl’s viewpoint. She is shown as wary and conscious of her mother’s moods and even suggests at times that her mother is volatile and unpredictable: ‘Sara hoped she wouldn’t complain. The glint in the mother’s eyes was like a spark that could ignite and involve them all.’ Sara’s thoughts influence the reader to seeing the mother as lacking many of the stereotypical attributes of a caring mother and it is significant that we only see descriptions of the mother rather than her own thoughts.
The dialogue and thoughts of the elderly passenger, however, are used in the second half of the story for an alternative purpose. The constant ridicule makes the reader sympathise with the mother, seeing clearly the burden of society’s attitudes and finally in her final and only comment the mother shows her total disdain for the busybodies and their traditional values. The line ‘I am going to kill them’ needs to be read ironically, almost portraying herself as such an evil figure just because others equate her behaviour with absurd extremes as wanting to murder her children. Thus the values of the text are strongly shown in the closure as it clearly positions the mother in a sympathetic light while criticising the passenger for the conventional attitudes that lack sensitivity and compassion, and reveal no understanding of complex issues.
***NOTE –THIS WAS NOT THE MOST COMPLETE ANALYSIS BUT IT GIVES YOU THE IDEA
A Rose for Emily William Faulkner
WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.
It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighbourhood; only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores. And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor--he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February came, and there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter, asking her to call at the sheriff's office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment.
They called a special meeting of the Board of Aldermen. A deputation waited upon her, knocked at the door through which no visitor had passed since she ceased giving china-painting lessons eight or ten years earlier. They were admitted by the old Negro into a dim hall from which a stairway mounted into still more shadow. It smelled of dust and disuse--a close, dank smell. The Negro led them into the parlour. It was furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture. When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was cracked; and when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray. On a tarnished gilt easel before the fireplace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily's father.
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.
She did not ask them to sit. She just stood in the door and listened quietly until the spokesman came to a stumbling halt. Then they could hear the invisible watch ticking at the end of the gold chain.
Her voice was dry and cold. "I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves."
"But we have. We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn't you get a notice from the sheriff, signed by him?"
"I received a paper, yes," Miss Emily said. "Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff . . . I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see. We must go by the--"
"See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But, Miss Emily--"
"See Colonel Sartoris." (Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years.) "I have no taxes in Jefferson. Tobe!" The Negro appeared. "Show these gentlemen out."
II So SHE vanquished them, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell.
That was two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would marry her --had deserted her. After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all. A few of the ladies had the temerity to call, but were not received, and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man--a young man then--going in and out with a market basket.
"Just as if a man--any man--could keep a kitchen properly, "the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed. It was another link between the gross, teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons.
A neighbour, a woman, complained to the mayor, Judge Stevens, eighty years old.
"But what will you have me do about it, madam?" he said.
"Why, send her word to stop it," the woman said. "Isn't there a law? "
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Judge Stevens said. "It's probably just a snake or a rat that nigger of hers killed in the yard. I'll speak to him about it."
The next day he received two more complaints, one from a man who came in diffident deprecation. "We really must do something about it, Judge. I'd be the last one in the world to bother Miss Emily, but we've got to do something." That night the Board of Aldermen met--three graybeards and one younger man, a member of the rising generation.
"Dammit, sir," Judge Stevens said, "Will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?"
So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol. They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.
That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her. People in our town, remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last, believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were. 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.
When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being left alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized. Now she too would know the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less.
The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.
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 had robbed her, as people will.
SHE WAS SICK for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in coloured church windows--sort of tragic and serene.
The town had just let the contracts for paving the sidewalks, and in the summer after her father's death they began the work. The construction company came with riggers and mules and machinery, and a foreman named Homer Barron, a Yankee--a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face. The little boys would follow in groups to hear him cuss the riggers, and the riggers singing in time to the rise and fall of picks. Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the centre of the group. Presently we began to see him and Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in the yellow-wheeled buggy and the matched team of bays from the livery stable.
At first we were glad that Miss Emily would have an interest, because the ladies all said, "Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day labourer." But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige, without calling it noblesse oblige. They just said, "Poor Emily. Her kinsfolk should come to her." She had some kin in Alabama; but years ago her father had fallen out with them over the estate of old lady Wyatt, the crazy woman, and there was no communication between the two families. They had not even been represented at the funeral.
And as soon as the old people said, "Poor Emily," the whispering began. "Do you suppose it's really so?" they said to one another. "Of course it is. What else could . . ." This behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: "Poor Emily."
She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness. Like when she bought the rat poison, the arsenic. That was over a year after they had begun to say "Poor Emily," and while the two female cousins were visiting her.
"I want some poison," she said to the druggist. She was over thirty then, still a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye sockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look. "I want some poison," she said.
"Yes, Miss Emily. What kind? For rats and such? I'd recom--"
"I want the best you have. I don't care what kind."
The druggist named several. "They'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Arsenic," Miss Emily said. "Is that a good one?"
"Is . . . arsenic? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want arsenic."
The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag. "Why, of course," the druggist said. "If that's what you want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for."
Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up. The Negro delivery boy brought her the package; the druggist didn't come back. When she opened the package at home there was written on the box, under the skull and bones: "For rats."
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." Then we said, "She will persuade him yet," because Homer himself had remarked--he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club--that he was not a marrying man. Later we said, "Poor Emily" behind the jalousies as they passed on Sunday afternoon in the glittering buggy, Miss Emily with her head high and Homer Barron with his hat cocked and a cigar in his teeth, reins and whip in a yellow glove.
Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people. The men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister--Miss Emily's people were Episcopal-- to call upon her. He would never divulge what happened during that interview, but he refused to go back again. The next Sunday they again drove about the streets, and the following day the minister's wife wrote to Miss Emily's relations in Alabama.
So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments. At first nothing happened. Then we were sure that they were to be married. We learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweller’s and ordered a man's toilet set in silver, with the letters H. B. on each piece. Two days later we learned that she had bought a complete outfit of men's clothing, including a nightshirt, and we said, "They are married." We were really glad. We were glad because the two female cousins were even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been.
So we were not surprised when Homer Barron--the streets had been finished some time since--was gone. We were a little disappointed that there was not a public blowing-off, but we believed that he had gone on to prepare for Miss Emily's coming, or to give her a chance to get rid of the cousins. (By that time it was a cabal, and we were all Miss Emily's allies to help circumvent the cousins.) Sure enough, after another week they departed. And, as we had expected all along, within three days Homer Barron was back in town. A neighbour saw the Negro man admit him at the kitchen door at dusk one evening.
And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron. And of Miss Emily for some time. The Negro man went in and out with the market basket, but the front door remained closed. Now and then we would see her at a window for a moment, as the men did that night when they sprinkled the lime, but for almost six months she did not appear on the streets. Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman's life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die.
When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray. During the next few years it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray, when it ceased turning. Up to the day of her death at seventy-four it was still that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man.
From that time on her front door remained closed, save for a period of six or seven years, when she was about forty, during which she gave lessons in china-painting. She fitted up a studio in one of the downstairs rooms, where the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris' contemporaries were sent to her with the same regularity and in the same spirit that they were sent to church on Sundays with a twenty-five-cent piece for the collection plate. Meanwhile her taxes had been remitted.
Then the newer generation became the backbone and the spirit of the town, and the painting pupils grew up and fell away and did not send their children to her with boxes of colour and tedious brushes and pictures cut from the ladies' magazines. The front door closed upon the last one and remained closed for good. When the town got free postal delivery, Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten the metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it. She would not listen to them.
Daily, monthly, yearly we watched the Negro grow grayer and more stooped, going in and out with the market basket. Each December we sent her a tax notice, which would be returned by the post office a week later, unclaimed. Now and then we would see her in one of the downstairs windows--she had evidently shut up the top floor of the house--like the carven torso of an idol in a niche, looking or not looking at us, we could never tell which. Thus she passed from generation to generation--dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.
And so she died. Fell ill in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her. We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro
He talked to no one, probably not even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse.
She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and mouldy with age and lack of sunlight.
THE NEGRO met the first of the ladies at the front door and let them in, with their hushed, sibilant voices and their quick, curious glances, and then he disappeared. He walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again.
The two female cousins came at once. They held the funeral on the second day, with the town coming to look at Miss Emily beneath a mass of bought flowers, with the crayon face of her father musing profoundly above the bier and the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.
The violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust. A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose colour, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man's toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured. Among them lay a collar and tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust. Upon a chair hung the suit, carefully folded; beneath it the two mute shoes and the discarded socks.
The man himself lay in the bed.
For a long while we just stood there, looking down at the profound and fleshless grin. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him. What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.
Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.