Who are the protagonist and the antagonist in "The Passing of Grandison"?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist in Charles Waddell Chestnutt’s short story “The Passing of Grandison” is Dick Owens, also known as Richard Owens, Esq. Owens is the son of a Kentucky slave owner, and the story is set soon after the Fugitive Slave Act is passed.

The third person, limited narrator focuses on the thoughts and actions of Dick Owens, whose main goal, in his young life, is to win the love of Charity Lomax, who wants a hero for her husband and lover. She is enthralled by Owen’s recount of the trial of a young man from Ohio who assists slaves as they make their way to freedom, and sees this as an act of heroism.

Dick Owens devises a scheme to free one of his father’s slaves, Grandison. As they travel north to New York, Boston, and finally to Niagara Falls, Canada, Grandison remains loyal to his master’s son, and denounces the abolitionists who try to entice him with freedom. Ultimately, Grandison is kidnapped, although the reader is left to wonder if this is Owens' plan.

Owens returns home to marry an adoring Charity, who believes him to be her hero.

Ultimately, Grandison makes his way back to the Owens' plantation, telling stories of kidnap and torture. But it is not long before he takes his family and flees to the North to freedom. Dick’s father tracks after him but the contacts Grandison made ferry his family to safety.  

Throughout the story, Grandison gives the illusion of being opposed to the abolitionists and expresses his loyalty. But in the end he becomes the antagonist as he leaves the plantation, taking with him its precious human commodity.

It should be noted that the terms protagonist and antagonist don't suggest moral right or moral wrong; they only identify the chief actor in the story (here Owens) and the person who acts against him (here Grandison).