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Tobe

In 2000, M. Ortiz wrote this statement and invited replies: "I think Tobe represented the many African Americans that were freed from slavery with no where to go. The African Americans may have been freed from physical slavery, but the war for freedom was just beginning. Tobe knew of no other way of life, so he stayed. Even after many slaves were freed , they felt a 'duty' to there previous owners and stayed on with them. So if you think about it for a minute, Tobe was a product of traditions, as was Emily. Emily kept him on because it was yet another way for her to hold on to the past. Tobe stayed because it was his 'duty' and 'care.  Any comments?"

In 2003, Connie H. replied: "Tobe, as a loyal manservant, remained in the home well after the death of Emily's father because he, in effect, became the male figure in her life. Since Emily had such a negative relationship with her domineering father, Tobe is a foil for her father. He never leaves her, he takes care of the house and her domestic needs, and he stays loyal despite the ups and downs of Emily's life choices. The fact that he is African-American merely stems from Faulkner's setting of the story in his fictional Yaknapatawpha County in post-Civil War times. Is it a deeply symbolic commentary on the South's inability to let go of its proud slavery stance?"

Heather (2004, KCKCC) suggests why Tobe had to leave at the end: "I believe that Tobe stayed out for several different reasons. The main reason for his presence was his loyalty to the family. Tobe had been there since Emily's father was alive and so he remained as the family servant until death. I also think that knowing and seeing everything that has gone on in the household that he remained there because he had seen and knew so much that it would have been hard for him to carry on a normal life on his own."

Keeley (2003) said Tobe's origin is a secret: "I feel that Tobe was the product of an affair between the Colonel & a slave woman. Since the Colonel (now Mayor) could not raise the Negro child, he left him to Emily's father. During this period, Negroes were freed, meaning Tobe had no reason to stay unless he was obligated by a family secret."

Betsy (1999, JSRCC) sees Tobe as obligated: "I don't think Tobe was her friend. I believe he thought he had no other options than to stay with her. After Miss Emily dies he stayed long enough to let the first visitors in and then "walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again." This does not sound like someone who stayed because he liked it."

"Upon further reflection there are other clues that Tobe was not with Miss Emily of his own accord. It is likely, because of the southern setting and time period of the story, that Tobe was a previous slave, although this is not explicitly stated in the story. Everyone in this town seems to be concerned about their place in society. Miss Emily, being from one of the 'august' families was felt to be above everyone else. The fact that she did not interact with her neighbors leads one to believe she felt this way herself. Tobe, being black, possibly a prior slave, was unfortunately at the bottom of the social ladder. Homer, being a northerner, was not much above Tobe. Certainly Miss Emily’s neighbors thought that they were socially above Homer, as evidenced in their derisive statement, 'Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer.'

"Tobe’s place would have been to do for his mistress whatever she wanted. This may or may not have involved helping her kill Homer, but he certainly must have known what she did as he lived in her house. Whether he actually had other employment options or not, he would have been brought up by white society that his lot didn't and so he probably felt he had to stay with Miss Emily. The longer he stayed the more tied he became to Miss Emily and the harder it would have been to leave. As I stated previously, as soon as someone else came to take care of Miss Emily's remains, he took off. Had he been a true friend to Miss Emily he would have remained, even though he might have been asked questions by the curious."

Michelle (1999, JSRCC) sees Tobe as an assassin: "What could be more believable (and remain along the same line of reasoning) is that Tobe is killing these men in order to protect her.

"The story states that the town felt pity for her because her father ran off suitable suitors, so Tobe gets rid of her father to decrease some of the humiliation that is being forced on her by her father. Then the story states that her sweetheart likes men (I took that as he was homosexual); regardless of whether he was homosexual or not, he was not the marrying type. So again Tobe kills this man to protect Miss Emily from more humiliation.

"She is so protected by the town and her family that she is a very naive woman. She doesn't know what is being said about her because no one would dare tell her to her face like the incident with the smell. Maybe she wasn't in denial at first when she wouldn't allow the priests to dispose of her father's body, maybe she truly didn't know that he was dead. And rather than turn in Tobe, who has taken care of her for many years, she trusts his instincts that this was the best thing, but keeps the body for two reasons. One being that her love was that strong for him and two to protect Tobe and/or herself from being implicated with murder."

Anthony (1999) sees Tobe as innocent of murder: "There are two good reasons why Tobe didn't do it. First of all, she bought the poison herself. That was the only time she was ever out of her house other than to go driving with Homer. Tobe buys everything else for her, except the poison. Secondly, Tobe wasn't the one bathing and sleeping with Homer. He was the servant. Nothing more."

A teacher (gbads, 2003) agrees that there is no evidence against Tobe: "I always tell my students to make sure that they can support their claims with support from the text. Therefore, I would have to disagree with you as there is no support whatsoever in the text as to Tobe's having been involved with Emily's life beyond that of a simple servant."

Amy (2004) of Donnelly College debunks the "murder mystery" theory that Tobe killed Emily's father and Homer because he wanted Emily for himself: "I never would have even began to think that Tobe was in love with Emily. It never once crossed my mind that he killed both Emily's father and Homer. I could see where this idea comes from, but I simply can't believe it. The town talks; they would have assumed something about Tobe if they even had the slightest thought that he had something to do with it. And she went and bought the arsenic herself, and then slept with him after he died. It doesn't seem like Tobe could have set all of that up. I just think that he is a devoted house servant. Since he had been with Emily all of her life, he didn't exactly want to stick around after she died, so he left."

Travis (1999) summarizes the extreme situation in which Tobe found himself: "I agree with the fact that this story is disturbing in the sense that [it raises the question:] why didn't anyone check on Emily? Even after smelling 'the smell,' the town just assumed that it was dead rats.  Meanwhile, no one has heard from or even seen Homer Baron, but they know--or they assume--that he is still living with her. So they put lime around and under the house.  I thought that you were supposed to put the lime directly on the corpse--whether it be a rat, a dog, a human, or whatever.  The [narrator] just said that the smell went away. I don't understand. 

"So they just leave this woman to herself for all of those years; no one stopping by to check on her or anything. I would assume that the Negro man called whomever to report her death, so why didn't he report the death of Homer Baron? Why didn't he just leave and not report anything? The town would've never known."

Ray (1998, RCC-Warsaw) provoked discussion with this claim that Tobe killed Emily's father and Homer: "For some reason or another, I have this weird mind and see this a little differently. Not that I disagree with what everybody else has already said but this could be a different way of looking at it. Has anyone ever pondered the idea of possibly Tobe being the one who murdered her father and Homer. Think about it. Tobe has always been there. Who is to say that Tobe does not have a power over Emily that she can not resist. He could have wanted her all for himself. Talked her into buying the poison He might have told her that everybody in the town was evil and that she should not associate with them. Let me know your comments on this. Prove me wrong. I just think it is another way of looking at it."

Jonathan (1999, JSRCC) refuted Ray's claim thus: "Although your idea that Tobe killed Emily's father and Homer Barron is very interesting, I don't think it could work in this story. To begin with there is no mention of how Emily's father died, or that there was any suspicious nature to his death. In a nosy town like this, it would be hard for rumors not to fly around surrounding his death, if it was suspicious. As far as Tobe talking Emily into buying the poison, we never really hear him speak to anyone in the story. At the end we are told that the people gave up any attempts to talk to him because his voice was too raspy due to 'disuse.' Also at the end of the story we learn that Homer's body is in a bed which Emily has shared with him for some time. This would not fit in very well with the thinking that Tobe wanted Emily 'all to himself' and he had a power over her. If Tobe wanted Homer out of the picture he surely would not allow Emily to 'sleep' with him and keep the body around."

"Carp" (1999) claimed that Tobe is a symbol related to time: "I feel that Tobe is a symbol of time finally moving forward after Emily's death. Remember how the only thing that changed about him was that he just got older; his patterns were always the same. Also, his name, Tobe, or maybe To Be is a clue that he represents the movement of time."

Amy (2003; KCKCC) claims Tobe and Emily are lovers:  "I have a story twist for you. What if Tobe was in love with Emily and he was the one that killed Homer in revenge for taking his 'girl?' Sure Emily may have had problems because she stayed around him, but that could have been cause by the neglect of her father. Tobe suddenly took off and no one heard of him again. Maybe that is because he DID DO SOMETHING and he just didn't want to get caught."

My Favorite Bad Answer

A 2003 respondent falls for the notion that Tobe did the killing and also rejects the idea, but also speculates about some motives: "I love that idea!!! Wow, I never thought of it that way! Why did Tobe stay around so long, I think you are right that in order to stay there he had to have love for Emily. However, I disagree that he killed Homer because if he did, wouldn't Emily have informed the authorities! I think that it makes sense that Tobe could have killed the Dad, out of his passionate love for her, but why kill Homer if he was going to leave Emily anyway? That situation would leave Tobe with Emily all to himself and work out best for him, wouldn't it? It is gross that he would stay in the house with a dead body, but I think maybe Homer was gay and so was Tobe."

[Commentary: This answer seems like a "television" answer.  The story about a clash between the antebellum South and the so-called "New South" has been subverted into a whodunit, so all of the symbolism is ignored in order to invent some devious solution to a murder mystery.  And every man must be gay, since there is so much television news about gays these days!  In fact, it is doubtful whether Homer or Tobe was "getting any" from anyone in this cold, small town.]