An essay I wrote about William Faulkner’s short story "A Rose for Emily"
Abraham Heschel said, “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” Racism destroys lives, enslaves peoples, scars generations and shames countries. Globally, millions die per year due to race-based genocides and millions more suffer oppression for the “minimum of reason.” Racism represents the greatest injustice in American history and the battle fought to end it took nearly a century of incessant work and intangible progress. In “A Rose for Emily”, William Faulkner illustrates the lingering “Old” South racism in the “New” South through Emily and her mental instability.
Emily’s “Negro” servant, Tobe, is the embodiment of the slavery that pervaded the Old South. Faulkner skillfully treats Tobe as a minor character, preventing those who read too quickly or too shallowly from immediately grasping his necessity and his paramount importance to the message of the story. However, a careful reader will note frequent passages mentioning him in connection to servitude and more that treat him as a lesser, nameless, being, likely an ironic intention of Faulkner’s. First mentioned to emphasize how few people had seen the inside of the house, Tobe reappears again and again at nearly every major junction of the story, and frequently as part of a transition. He is named only once – further diminishing his character – when being called, as if a dog, to his mistress to escort her guests to the door. The next reference to Tobe appears in a statement made by a Judge, an entity closely associated with law and justice. He refers to Tobe as “that nigger of hers [Emily's]” further illustrating the racism of the Old South generation, and asserting that Tobe is a mere piece of property in the process, a central tenant of slavery. Tobe’s apparent enslavement remains visible throughout the story. He works to Emily’s dying day, seemingly never pursuing freedom or any happiness of his own. The comparison to the slave’s life, a constant toil to satisfy the master immediately comes to mind. Year after year, his own life wasting away with hers, Tobe goes to market, cooks, and maintains Emily’s garden, seemingly without compensation as he takes no possessions with him upon leaving the house. Faulkner also hints that Tobe never spoke to Emily, or was not allowed to, another reference to the slave’s oppressed lifestyle.