The townspeople immediately suspected that Miss Emily intended to kill herself with the arsenic, and agreed it was for the best, especially because Homer had once confided in some of the men in town over drinks at the Elks’ Club “that he was not a marrying man.” It was after learning this of Homer, but before Miss Emily bought the arsenic, that some of the ladies in town soon began to say that the relationship between Miss Emily and Homer “was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people.” They coerced the Baptist minister into calling on Miss Emily, but he never revealed what happened during their meeting. The day after, the minister’s wife wrote to Miss Emily’s kin in Alabama.
The fourth narrative leap back in time. The townspeople think women passive, impotent, which is perhaps why they suspect that Miss Emily intends to commit suicide instead of homicide. Their notions of honor and overvaluation of female virginity (the fear here is that Miss Emily is having sex with a man who will not marry her) also lead them to perversely think that Miss Emily’s suicide would be for the best. Ironically, the townspeople who cry out for the female cousins to come almost as quickly want them gone—mob judgment is not only blind but also irrational. They hold up these genteel woman as monuments to their past, and also don’t like them.
Consequently, her two female cousins came to live with Miss Emily. Nothing changed at first, but soon the townspeople came to believe that she and Homer were to be married—especially after she went to the jeweler’s and ordered a man’s toilet set (hairbrush, comb, mirror, etc.) with Homer’s initials on each piece, as well as many articles of men’s clothing. The town was glad, not least because Miss Emily’s two female cousins were haughtier than even Miss Emily and were presumably expected to leave town in the event of Miss Emily’s marriage.
In hindsight, it seems like Miss Emily buys the toilet set and clothes either to coax or pressure Homer into marriage, or else as part of an ultimatum, as if she will say: you will marry me, and here are the things to prove it. Or perhaps she merely makes a public show of buying the items to temporarily placate the scandalized townspeople. Or perhaps the purchase is preparation for the insane and delusional act she really does end up making. In any case, the act signifies her intention to control her unstable situation.
The townspeople were not surprised when Homer Barron disappeared from Jefferson. They were disappointed that his departure was preceded by no public conflict, but also hopeful on Miss Emily’s behalf that he had just gone off to prepare for Miss Emily’s coming to join him, or else to give her a chance to get rid of her two female cousins, whom all in the town wanted gone. After another week, the cousins indeed departed, and within three days Homer returned. Tobe admitted him into Miss Emily’s house—and that was the last the townspeople saw of Homer Barron, and of Miss Emily for some time, save for at her window.
The townspeople are not surprised by Homer’s departure because they assume that Miss Emily’s two haughty, disagreeable cousins—or his own inclination not to marry— drove him away. It is ironic that Jefferson residents hold in high esteem the representatives of the Southern aristocracy as ideals, yet can’t stand them in person. Strange, also, is the fact that the townspeople never investigate where Homer went after seeing him for the last time—do they suspect murder, but collectively agree to let a sleeping dog lie?
When the townspeople next saw Miss Emily in person, she had grown fat and her hair had turned an “iron-gray.” From that time on, her door was always closed, save for a period of six or seven years when she was about forty and gave lessons in china-painting to the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris’s contemporaries. This was also around the time that Sartoris had excused her from paying her taxes.
The narrative begins moving linearly, from the date of Homer’s disappearance all the way up to Miss Emily’s funeral forty years later. We now understand the events that conspired to make Miss Emily such a recluse, as well as why Sartoris comes to her aid in 1894. We might wonder if these parents—themselves old enough o have some connection with that pre-Civil War genteel society—send their daughters to paint with Miss Emily only as a pretense for diverting money in her direction.
The narrator again recalls (as in Section 1 of the story) how the newer, post-Sartoris generation rose to power in town. The narrator also recalls how Miss Emily’s painting pupils grew up and did not send their children to her, how Miss Emily became permanently reclusive, and how when the town got free postal delivery Miss Emily alone refused to have metal numbers fastened over her door and a mailbox installed. The townspeople watched as the reticent Tobe grew older. Then one day, having fallen ill, Miss Emily died in bed.
As Miss Emily becomes more reclusive, she becomes increasingly invisible to, and disconnected from both the townspeople and the general progress and development of the town, exemplified by her refusal to have postal numbers and a mailbox installed.. That no one any longer sent their children to paint china with Miss Emily further illustrates that disconnection, and how the further generations have moved on from the genteel traditions of their parents. Tobe is the only sign of life around her house, which suggests just how alone Miss Emily is