Who is the antagonist in The Leap by Louise Erdrich?

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The terms protagonist and antagonist are derived from Greek tragedy, in which there were initially only two actors, a "protagonist" (literally the first actor) and an antagonist, someone the protagonist "struggled against." A modern short story, however, is not an ancient Greek tragedy, and thus may have a quite different structure.

The story recounts three times that the narrator's mother, a trapeze artist by training, saved her life. Each of those involved taking a great and dangerous leap, in either a figurative or a literal sense, in which the mother risks her own life or comfort to save her daughter. 

In none of these three instances is there a human antagonist. In the first case, the danger was caused by a lightning strike during a performance. The second leap was one of marrying the doctor who fathered the daughter. The third leap was to save the daughter from a burning building. One could argue that the mother may struggle against fear or external circumstances and displays great courage, but there is really no "antagonist" per se

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Check out Enotes.com's awesome Guide to Literary Terms and get a deeper insight on this interesting topic. According to our guide, the literal definition of an antagonist goes as follows:

Antagonist - the character who strives against another main character. This character opposes the hero or protagonist in drama. The term is also used to describe one who contends with or opposes another in a fight, conflict, or battle of wills.

Now, let us work backwards and say a NON example of what is an antagonist. The opposite of the antagonist in literature is the protagonist, as you may know.

The protagonist is the central figure of a story or novel. It is the protagonist's point of view that serves as the narrative of a story. It is also the person that is at the center of the problem of the story.

The situations that affect the protagonist are the focal point of the narration. Now, the protagonist may or may not tell the story from his or her own POV. When it happens, it is known as "first person" point of view. Otherwise, literature is narrated through another set of eyes in third person.

The antagonist, then, is the opposite force in a drama. It is the contrasting figure that directly opposes the actions and thoughts of the protagonist, hence, it "antagonizes" or challenges him or her.

This being said, do not assume that only an individual can be an antagonist. There are other variables that can definitely serve as antagonists, causing the protagonist to be in conflict. These variables include:  

  • protagonist versus self (personal demons and limitations are the antagonists)
  • protagonist versus the world (society, the environment, the weather, established rules, ethics, politics, and regulations are the antagonists)
  • protagonist versus destiny (disease, death, crime, poverty, disaster, and other inevitable and tragic events can be antagonists)
  • protagonist versus divinity (any system of belief, deity, God himself, Karma, or any other thing considered spiritual are the antagonists)

Therefore in literature, as in life, anything that comes in between a protagonist's ultimate success, or completion of a milestone, is considered an antagonist.

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