In a sense, one of our greatest sources of insight into Miss Emily
’s character, who she is and how she changes, is (shockingly enough) her hair
. For example, after her father
dies, Miss Emily falls ill for a long time; when she reappears in public, “her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl.” Earlier Miss Emily denies that her father is really dead, and her subsequent girlish haircut only seems like a subtle affirmation of this denial, a sign that she still thinks of herself as daddy’s little girl, as it were. Later, after Homer Barron
disappears into the Grierson house
, Miss Emily is next seen with “iron-gray” hair, “like the hair of an active man.” First, like an iron helmet, the “iron-gray” hair suggests that Miss Emily has something to protect—and indeed she is protecting a dreadful secret: Homer’s murder. Second, that her hair resembles the hair of an active man suggests that Miss Emily has rejected her community’s norms for female conduct, which she indeed has, albeit perversely so, in asserting her control over Homer by murdering him. And, finally, it is only by discovering a strand of Miss Emily’s hair on a pillow next to Homer’s corpse that the townspeople
realize just how damaged, even criminally insane Miss Emily was. Given all of this, we might conclude that Miss Emily’s hair symbolizes both the woman’s turbulent mental life as well as her radical isolation from her community.