The protagonist in a story is the main character who is in conflict with the antagonist, another character or force in the story. Alyce, the apprentice, is the protagonist, and she faces several conflicts in the story. One conflict is an inner one of feeling she lacks value to anyone, even herself. She has been treated unkindly all of her life, and she has no home or anyone to care about her, so Brat does what she must to survive. Her new name, Beetle, is given to her because she tries to keep warm in a dung heap.
The midwife knows she can use Beetle any way she wishes since she's homeless and uneducated. The midwife becomes the character protagonist that Beetle must struggle against. The midwife abuses Beetle and treats her like a slave. But Beetle has, for the first time in her life, some kind of stability in her life, and she won't give it up. Becoming "Alyce", she now begins to see that she can be worthy of delivering babies, and she also realizes that learning to read gives a person power. She runs away, however, the first time she can't deliver a baby because she's afraid to fail. She meets Magister Reese, who teaches her to read, and her confidence begins to return. When he asks her what she wants, she tells him she wants to have food to eat, a happy heart, and to find where she belongs in the world. When the midwife comes looking for her, Alyce realizes midwifery is her purpose.