In "A Rose for Emily" who/what is the antagonist?  

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An antagonist can refer to a person, a group of people, an institution, a situation, or any circumstance that opposes the protagonist or lead character in a literary work. In terms of this definition, the lead character, Miss Emily Grierson, is opposed by many.

The city authorities are definitely antagonists. They have constantly been harassing her about unpaid taxes. Miss Emily, however, refuses to give in to their demands and states that she has no taxes and that the authorities have to speak to Colonel Sartoris, the town mayor who originally exempted her from paying any taxes because her father had lent the town some money. The colonel has long passed away, but Miss Grierson refuses to budge. The authorities send her a tax notice every year until her death without ever getting a positive response.

The townspeople, especially Miss Emily's neighbors, are also antagonists. They perpetually gossip about her and continuously express disdain about her and the fact that the Griersons hold "themselves a little too high." The inhabitants are clearly jealous of the family and vent their resentment and ill-feeling behind closed doors. Their expressions of pity whenever she encounters some misfortune are mere platitudes and more condescending than sincere.

Some of her neighbors lodge complaints against her for the stench emanating from her house. This encourages the authorities to send out men to secretly inspect her premises and saturate them with lime. The unpleasant smell eventually disappears.

Miss Emily's two cousins can also be seen as antagonists since their sole purpose seems to be to restrict her freedom. The text also suggests that she finds their presence an unwelcome intrusion. We are informed:

... to give her a chance to get rid of the cousins. (By that time it was a cabal, and we were all Miss Emily's allies to help circumvent the cousins.)

This is patent evidence that she does not want them around and that she wants to focus on Homer Barron's interest in her. Homer's declaration that he is not the marrying kind might make him an antagonist. Miss Emily obviously likes him or even, in her own way, loves him. When she realizes that he has misled her (or perhaps that she has misled herself) and that he will not be hers, she decides to permanently claim at least his body by killing him with arsenic and sleeping next to his corpse.

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A Rose for Emily

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