Thereafter, Miss Emily fell ill for a long time. When next seen by the townspeople, she had a girlish haircut and looked “tragic and serene.” Around this time, a construction company, which the town authorities had contracted, arrived to pave the sidewalks in Jefferson, led by a big Yankee named Homer Barron, who came to know everybody in town. “Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group.” Soon, he and Miss Emily began to be seen together on Sunday afternoons driving in a horse-drawn yellow-wheeled buggy.
Miss Emily’s haircut suggests that she has not gotten over her father’s death, as her haircut indicates that she sees herself still as a girl. “Tragic and serene” might also describe how the South idealized its lost pre-Civil War post. In contrast, Homer is a herald of progress in the South, a rebuilder of what is decaying. He becomes popular in town, which indicates that the Southerners are perhaps prepared to rebuild relations with their Northern counterparts. Though her father would have no doubt disapproved, Miss Emily surprises us by taking control of her life in becoming involved with Homer.
The townspeople were at first glad that Miss Emily had a romantic interest, even though they thought she would never think seriously about marrying a laborer from the North. Some older people, however, thought that Emily might be serious about Homer out of financial need. “Poor Emily,” they said, and they agreed that her kin should come to aid her in avoiding a marriage that was beneath her. But Emily’s father had fallen out with what family the Griersons had in Alabama because of a disagreement about Emily’s great-aunt Wyatt’s estate. Even though the town was scandalized by her relationship with Homer, Miss Emily carried her head high as befitted the last Grierson.
The townspeople are rather fickle in their judgments, first pleased for Miss Emily, later scandalized. The first case seems more justified by the facts: a lonely woman has taken control of her life and found companionship. What is there to be displeased about? The older people’s harsher judgment is based on an old, even irrelevant social hierarchy. However, much as they’re willing to work with and fraternize with Northerners, the townspeople at large are at last not willing to sacrifice their traditions, and Miss Emily is one of their traditions.
A year after some townspeople began saying “poor Emily”—and while two female cousins visited her—Miss Emily went to the druggist to buy poison, arsenic. The druggist told her that the law required explanation of how the poison was to be used, but Miss Emily just stared at him till he got the arsenic and packaged it for her. A black delivery boy brought her the package, and the druggist didn’t come back. At her house, Miss Emily opened the package to see the words “For rats” written on the box by the druggist.
The second narrative leap forward in time. The purchase of the arsenic, like the bad smell, generates suspense. Miss Emily’s privileged status in the town makes it possible for her to circumvent the law in not giving an explanation to the druggist, a demonstration that aristocratic social relations make equality before the law a mere illusion. (Similar to Miss Emily’s circumvention of her taxes.)