Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of antagonist?

The definition of antagonist is a major character whose goals and motivations are in conflict with those of the main character, or protagonist.

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In a narrative text, an antagonist is a major character who is in conflict with the main character, or protagonist. Just as a narrative can have multiple protagonists, it can also have multiple antagonists. 

Antagonist derives from the Greek word antagōnizesthai, meaning “to struggle against.”

Typically, the antagonist is viewed as the villain, and the protagonist is viewed as the hero. However, if the protagonist is villainous, the antagonist is typically heroic. The novel A Separate Peace is a good example of this, with Gene as the villainous protagonist and Finny as the virtuous antagonist. 

Antagonists from literature include Gabriel Grimes from James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, who opposes the protagonist, John Grimes; Samuel Parris from Maryse Conde’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, who opposes Tituba; and Baron Danglers, Fernand Mondego, and M. Villefort from Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, who oppose Edmond Dantès.

see: protagonist

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