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What Are Literary Antagonists?

Definition Of “Literary Antagonist”

An antagonist is an individual or group of individuals who oppose a central protagonist (or the main character). In its Greek origin, “antagonist” can be traced back to words that mean “rival” or “opponent.” In literature, antagonists are usually needed to add drama and action and move the story along. 

In most stories, the antagonist is usually a separate character that acts as a clear villain who opposes a hero. There can, however, be complexity with antagonists, as sometimes the antagonist may be a mental/moral struggle or may not even exist at all. For example, in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, the titular characters live within one human being, with one playing the antagonist role and the other the protagonist. Complex antagonist-protagonist relationships such as this can add depth and meaning to a story. 

Popular Examples Of Literary Antagonists 

As mentioned, there are many popular examples of literary antagonists. Most media we see today includes some form of literary antagonist. Read the following examples to see some classic antagonists. 

First of all, one great example that we touched on is Mr. Hyde in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. In this classic tale, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde are two counter personalities that live within one human being. With this, Mr. Hyde is the “evil,” or antagonistic personality that causes the issues and moves the plot along. If you get to read this amazing story, try to look out for the negative impacts that Mr. Hyde has and how they add drama and suspense. 

A more simple example of an antagonist can be found in the classic novel Lord of the Flies. In this story, a group of young boys are stranded on a deserted island and must fend for themselves to survive. Throughout the book, the main protagonist Ralph often experiences backlash and conflict with another child named Jack. In this story, Jack is a clear example of a separate antagonist, as he is his unique character that opposed the antagonist. 

Moving along, another more complex antagonist can be seen in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet are lovers originate from feuding families in this age-old romance. Both families act against their romance throughout the storyline and cause trouble, drama, violence, and even death. Although it is abstract, both families act as the antagonists in the story, as they separately get in the way of the main protagonists: Romeo and Juliet. 

Another great example of a literary antagonist is Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. In this story, Danny Torrance moves into a secluded hotel over the winter with his family due to his father’s (Jack’s) new job. Jack begins as a part of the protagonist’s party. However, as he starts to physically threaten his family, he evolves to become the antagonist. Overall, this story is a great example of how fluid the protagonists and antagonists can be in a plot. 

What Do Antagonists Do? 

As you can see from the examples, antagonists add lots of conflict to a plot. The duality of a protagonist and antagonist is vital to creating a story that is interesting and has a message. 

The antagonist makes sure that the protagonist has conflict in his endeavors and has the motivation to move the story along. In most basic story structures, the antagonist pushes the protagonist to a final pushing point, the climax. After the conflict with the antagonist ends, the story wraps up. 

In the end, antagonists are very important to have in any story, no matter how big or small. With this, it is important to know what they are and what they do so that you can identify them and even create them in your own stories! 

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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