Whats the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Protagonists and antagonists are opposing forces.

In literature, a protagonist is the main character of a story.  Such a person is often referred to as the hero of a book.  There might be more than one.  For example, in “The Three Little Pigs,” the protagonists would be the pigs.  The story is told from their point of view, and it is their perspective that we sympathize with.

The first little pig built himself a house out of it. He was very pleased with his house. He said, "Now the wolf won't catch me and eat me!"

The antagonist of a story, on the other hand, is the bad guy.  This is the opposing force, or the negative influence.  Sometimes the protagonist and the antagonist rarely or never meet, and the two may battle or exchange jabs throughout a story.  In this story, the antagonist is the wolf.

The wolf knocked on the door and said,

"Little pig, little pig. Let me come in!"

"No, no!" said the little pig, "By the hair of my chinny chin chin, I will not let you come in!"

The antagonist and the protagonist have opposing goals for some reason.  They may be enemies.  In this case, the wolf wants to eat the pigs, and the pigs want to be eaten.  In some cases, the protagonist is the hero, and the antagonist is the villain, who might be some kind of criminal.  Sometimes the antagonist is just a normal person, but he just has a different objective than the protagonist.  Either way, the two characters have a different objective that cannot coexist peacefully.

Sometimes the protagonist defeats the antagonist, either by vanquishing him or by eliminating his power.  This might end in a happy ending.  Sometimes, as in the Harry Potter series or others, the antagonist returns again and again and the protagonist only defeats him temporarily.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The best explanation of the terms "protagonist" and "antagonist" I have ever read is in Chapter 8 of The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. This book is readily available in libraries and bookstores. It must have sold in the millions of copies since it was first published in 1942. Chapter 8 is titled "Pivotal Character." According to Lajos Egri:

The pivotal character is the protagonist. According to Webster's dictionary, the protagonist is--"the one who takes the lead in any movement or cause." Anyone who opposes the protagonist is an opponent or antagonist.

The pivotal character knows what he wants. Without him the story flounders . . . in fact, there is no story.

Egri identifies many pivotal characters, or protagonists, in famous plays. Iago is the protagonist in Othello. Hamlet is the pivotal character in Hamlet. Oedipus is the protagonist in Oedipus Rex (since he insists on finding the King's murderer). The fact that the villainous, despicable Iago is the protagonist in Othello indicates that the protagonist does not have to be the "hero." 

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, it seems pretty obvious that Willy Loman is the protagonist and that his son Biff is the antagonist. Willy tries to force Biff to become something he isn't cut out to be. Eventually Biff rebels. There is a conflict between father and son from the beginning of the play.


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rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The protagonist is the main character of a story and will display favorable, heroic qualities. The antagonist is the "bad guy" or the person who is completely opposite the protagonist. Antagonists often have bad qualities that are a negative influence on the protagonist and the people around them. An example would be Batman (protagonist) and The Joker (antagonist). 

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I disagree. As far as Batman and the Joker are concerned, I would say this is a clear example of a situation in which the bad guy is the protagonist. The Joker starts the action by wanting to carry out some wicked scheme. According to Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing:

The pivotal character is the protagonist. According to Webster's dictionary, the protagonist is--"the one who takes the lead in any movement or cause." Anyone who opposes the protagonist is an opponent or antagonist.

The pivotal character knows what he wants. Without him the story flounders . . . in fact, there is no story.

There would be no story if the Joker did not initiate the action and keep trying to carry out his plan until he is finally defeated by Batman.

In the 1984 movie The Terminator, the bad guy is certainly the cyborg assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he is clearly the protagonist. He is programmed to do one thing, and he keeps trying even when he has been reduced to a metal skeleton. The hero is the guy who keeps trying to save the woman the Terminator is programmed to kill. The hero is the antagonist.

There are many movies about serial killers. These are obviously bad guys, but they are usually the protagonists.

In the Tom and Jerry animated cartoons, our sympathies are with Jerry the mouse, but Tom the cat is the protagonist because he keeps trying to catch Jerry and eat him.

In the old Popeye animated cartoons, Popeye is the hero but the big guy called Bluto is the protagonist because he starts and sustains the action, usually by pursuing Olive Oyl. She is the MacGuffin.

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isaitrejo | eNotes Newbie

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Its Easy The Antagonist is always the one who is against the protagonist.

For example: In three little pigs the antagonist is the Wolf

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I disagree again. The wolf initiates the conflict. He is the protagonist. His motivation is simple: he wants to eat the pigs. The pigs are the antagonists. They don't want to get eaten. In "Little Red Riding Hood" the wolf is also the protagonist. He wants to eat Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.

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