The protagonist is the central figure of a story, and is often referred to as a story's main character.
The story follows and is chiefly concerned with the protagonist (or, sometimes, a small group of protagonists—see usage below). Often the story is told from the protagonist's point of view; even when not in first-person narrative, the protagonist's attitudes and actions are made clear to the reader or listener to a larger extent than for any other character.
The protagonist is also characterized by his ability to change or evolve. Although a novel may center around the actions of another character, as in Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener", it is the dynamic character that typically allows the novel to progress in a manner that is conducive to the thesis of the work and earns the respect or attention of the audience.
The protagonist is, it should be pointed out, not always the hero of the story. Many authors have chosen to unfold a story from the point of view of a character who, while not central to the action of the story, is in a position to comment upon it. However, it is most common for the story to be "about" the protagonist; even if the protagonist's actions are not heroic, they are nonetheless usually vital to the progress of the story. Neither should the protagonist be confused with the narrator; they may be the same, but even a first-person narrator need not be the protagonist.
The protagonist is often faced with a "foil"; that is, a character known as the antagonist who most represents or creates obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. As with protagonists, there may be more than one antagonist in a story.
Sometimes, a work will initially highlight a particular character, as though they were the protagonist, and then unexpectedly dispose of that character as a dramatic device. Such a character is called a false protagonist.
Protagonists with interesting names include Hiro Protagonist, the primary character in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and John Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
Protagonist or protagonists
In an ancient Greek drama, the protagonist was the leading actor and as such there could only be one protagonist in a play. However the word has been used in the plural to mean 'important actors' or 'principal characters' since at least 1671 when John Dryden wrote "Tis charg'd upon me that I make debauch'd persons... my protagonists, or the chief persons of the drama" [].
Protagonist as proponent
The use of 'protagonist' in place of 'proponent' has become common in the 20th century and may have been influenced by a misconception that the first syllable of the word represents the prefix pro- (ie. 'favoring'). For example, usage such as "He was an early protagonist of nuclear power" can be replaced by 'advocate' or 'proponent' [].
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:13:25