What ‘Protagonists’ and ‘Antagonists’ Really Are, and What the Connection Between Them Consists Of


Of course we already know what a ‘protagonist’ is, don’t we? And an antagonist. They are the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ of fiction.

Whether they appear on stage or in films or between the pages of novels, protagonists and antagonists are pretty universal. In some stories they are obvious - the hero wears a white hat, the villain a black one - and the story is a ‘shoot-out’ of one kind or another between them. In other stories, the distinction is less clear: in a tragedy, for example, the main thrust of the story is often how a potential protagonist turns bad and is doomed by a series of wrong decisions.

There are darker stories than that in which the main character is more of an anti-hero, in effect a kind of antagonist, and his or her victims are the figures we would normally call ‘heroes’: think of a horror story centred around the villain, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, to get more of an idea of how this works. And there are comedies, where the seriousness of the distinction is blurred and we are meant to reject any kind of dire consequences of a conflict between them with laughter.

But despite all these differences, there are common characteristics, usually totally unexplored and mainly imprinting on the uncons