Who is the antagonist in Getting Out by Marsha Norman?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Identifying the antagonist in a literary work depends largely on two factors. The first is establishing whether there is a central conflict and, if so, what type it is. The second is identifying the protagonist . Once we know what kind of conflict we are examining and how it affects...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Identifying the antagonist in a literary work depends largely on two factors. The first is establishing whether there is a central conflict and, if so, what type it is. The second is identifying the protagonist. Once we know what kind of conflict we are examining and how it affects the protagonist, we can see what relationships the protagonist has with other characters.

The effectiveness of Marsha Norman’s play depends precisely on the difficulty of identifying one antagonist. Arlie’s life before being incarcerated was filled with conflicts; existing in opposition to many people in her life and to society at large, she became a criminal. All three types of conflict involving a person are present in the play. Arlie has strong internal conflicts, which exemplify "person versus self." In her limited support network, her relatives and friends often seem to encourage negative behavior. As she tries to change her life, she experiences conflicts with them, often as individuals: "person versus person" conflicts. As a recently released ex-prisoner, she is still tightly controlled by numerous social institutions, so we can also identify "person versus society" as a strong conflict.

Ultimately, Arlene must take responsibility for changing her own life to the extent possible. She finds support from her neighbor, Ruby. Although we can identify specific characters who made things difficult for her, and continue to do so, none of them individually constitutes a primary antagonist. The way Norman structures her play and the kind of development she shows Arlene undergoing suggest that Arlie, her former self, is the antagonist.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team