Minnie Cooper is 38 or 39 years old and single, living in a small house with her aging mother and aunt. Her days are routine and uniform: she wakes at 10:00 a.m., spends the morning swinging on her porch, naps, and then dresses up and goes downtown with her friends. Both she and her clothing are “faintly haggard,” and she is “still on the slender side of ordinary looking.”
Minnie is one of the main characters in this story, yet she never speaks for herself. She is portrayed as passive and helpless, and the fact that she is a middle-aged single woman places her in an unfavorable situation. Here, Faulkner focuses on her outward appearance to highlight the fact that, to this society, that is all that matters.
As a pretty young woman, Minnie was invited to social events for a while, until her social group became more aware of class differences and their importance in society. Minnie soon began to lose ground and while her friends married, she did not find anyone to settle down with. Children began to call her “aunty,” and her friends recalled how popular she had been in her youth.
Minnie’s beauty and popularity as a youth did not translate to marriage, which is the main objective for a woman in this society. This moment subtly draws attention to the strict class differences that, like racism and gender roles, shape life in this narrow-minded town. Becoming an “aunty” it cements Minnie’s spinster status and lack of agency in this world.
Minnie began to ride around town with an older widower who worked as a cashier at the bank. He had the first automobile in Jefferson, “a red runabout,” and Minnie wore the first motoring bonnet and veil. The details of their relationship are not clear, but when the bank cashier left for a new job in Memphis, Minnie was not invited to accompany him. He has returned to Jefferson every Christmas for a party at the hunting club, but she is never invited.
Minnie’s relationship with the bank teller is unconventional due to their age difference and the fact that he was previously married; as such, it causes gossip around town. While Minnie was able to enjoy the status and attention that came with rides in his automobile, the fact that he does not even call on her when he returns again emphasizes that she has little power, agency, or appeal as an older woman in a deeply sexist society.
Many years have passed since that romance, and people in town have begun to notice that Minnie started drinking whiskey during the daytime. She gets the alcohol from the soda fountain clerk, a boy who takes pity on her and decides that “she’s entitled to a little fun.”
Part II returns to Minnie in the present day, driven to drink by the disappointments of her social life, and pitied by those around her. This scene underscores the town’s penchant for gossip—which turns deadly when it comes to Will Mayes.