William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” falls very much into the genre of macabre literature. The tale of a woman from a once-prosperous family who was isolated from society by an overprotective father and who essentially kidnaps the one man to whom she gives herself, keeping his dead body in her bed for eternity, involves a category of protagonist that departs from the conventional wisdom regarding character classification. “Protagonist,” as opposed to “antagonist,” suggests positive features in a character, while “antagonist” would seem to imply a villainous character. At minimum, an antagonist is a character determined to prevent the protagonist from succeeding at a presumably positive endeavor. Emily, however, is not a positive character; on the contrary, she is far from admirable in any way, existing as a reclusive figure who, in Faulkner’s day, would have been referred to as a spinster known as much for her failure to pay her taxes as for her “failure” to wed.
Miss Emily Grierson is the protagonist of Faulkner’s story. She is the kind of protagonist, though, who embodies no particular traits for which to commend her. She is the protagonist simply because she is the central character in Faulkner’s story, and the figure whose actions propel the narrative. Emily is the kind of protagonist who is featured in stories about sociopaths and psychopaths—hardly the definition of protagonist that one would ordinarily expect.