Bayard's decision about whether to take revenge on his father's killer is cast in the imagery of Greek tragedy. He imagines Drusilla waiting for him on the steps of the house in her yellow ball gown holding dueling pistols, the "Greek amphora priestess of a succinct and formal violence." The words "formal" or "formality" are used several times to describe Drusilla as she puts a sprig of verbena in her hair or George Wyatt and the other men as they wait for Bayard outside the house, suggesting the frozen postures of portraits on a Greek urn or of the carved friezes on a temple. Even the flower verbena has classical associations: it was worn by Roman priests responsible for guarding the public faith. The specific tragedy being evoked is the Oresteia, a trilogy of plays by the ancient dramatist Aeschylus. In the trilogy, the Trojan war hero Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra; his son Orestes is forced to avenge his father's death by killing his mother. In the third play, Eumenides, Orestes is pursued by the Furies for committing matricide, until the goddess Athena absolves him and ends what might otherwise be ceaseless violence. Like Orestes, Bayard must avenge his father's murder, but as in the Eumenides, he decides to heal his community by ending the destructive cycle of bloodshed. Drusilla has attributes of the Furies in her insistence on retribution, her wild-eyed, almost insane pursuit of revenge over mercy.

Whereas in previous chapters Drusilla has been associated with a positive, wholesome set of virtues, in "An Odor of Verbena" the dangers of her traditional code of honor are revealed. Her desire for vengeance leads to an uncontrollable hysteria, echoed in the blazing stare of George Wyatt when he thinks Bayard might evade his traditional duty. But unlike in "Vendée," Bayard is not avenging the death of an innocent. Colonel Sartoris intentionally provoked Ben Redmond, who the novel stresses is no coward, taunting him even when he had the upper hand and should have withdrawn gracefully. Redmond was pressured to shoot the colonel to preserve his dignity; by murdering him Bayard would only be compounding his father's injustice.

Bayard chooses what is arguably the bravest and most honorable way of all. By confronting Redmond unarmed, he proves he is not afraid to meet danger but avoids the necessity of actually killing him. Practically speaking, Redmond is as good as dead—he will never trouble Bayard or Jefferson again. Wyatt comes to understand the wisdom of Bayard's decision, admitting that the Sartoris family has already seen enough bloodshed. But Drusilla, still insistent, cannot abide by his choice, and leaves for Montgomery rather than face her cousin. The single sprig of verbena she leaves on his pillow is an admission of his courage and a token of farewell.