Antagonist Definition: a character who stands in opposition to advancing the primary goals of the plot of a story

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An antagonist stands in the way of the protagonist’s goals in a story, but they are not always evil or out to destroy the protagonist; sometimes, they simply get in the way. They share a lot of the same traits of protagonists, including bravery, intelligence, driven by a goal, and fierce loyalty. They also usually have some sort of flaw, much like the protagonist, that makes them more accessible and realistic to the reader. There can also be multiple antagonists in a work who each stand in the protagonist’s way at some point in time. For example, the antagonist in the beginning of A Thousand Splendid Suns is Rasheed; however, that quickly turns into a struggle between Mariam and Laila, which then evolves into a friendship where they are pitted against both Rasheed and the Taliban regime.

Sometimes the antagonist in a work of literature isn’t a person or creature; instead, it can be a force of nature, or a societal norm that the protagonist must struggle against. For example, in Tuesdays with Morrie the antagonist is Morrie’s ALS, an illness that is quickly stealing time from Morrie, making it ever more crucial to reveal his important lessons to Mitch Albom before he dies. The key purpose of an antagonist or antagonistic force is to create conflict for the protagonist. Without conflict, the protagonist cannot grow, change, or reach new understandings of themselves or their world.

Notable Examples of Antagonists in Literature

Be sure to check out our article, Protagonist vs. Antagonist!
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