Protagonist Definition

A protagonist is the central character or leading figure in poetry, narrative, novel or any other story. A protagonist is sometimes a “hero” to the audience or readers. The word originally came from the Greek language, and in Greek drama it refers to the person who led the chorus. Later on, the word started being used as a term for the first actor in order of performance.

Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello could be identified as the protagonist of the novel because he played a central role in all the controversies of the play. The question here would be that, even though he was a central character, was he really the lead character too? This type of indistinctness generally results in completely different interpretations of whether the said character is a protagonist or not.

Examples of Protagonist from Literature

Example #1: Hamlet (By William Shakespeare)

Protagonist examples in many stories are not shown to be flawless. They generally undergo some change that causes a turn of events. This makes a story interesting and helps deliver a message. Sometimes, a moral weakness shows that causes the fall of the protagonist. For example, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the protagonist experiences terrible events because of his indecisiveness, which troubles him while murdering his evil uncle. So, Hamlet’s struggle in dealing with the antagonist is what precedes the story.

Example #2: Vanity Fair (By William Makepeace Thackeray)

A protagonist can sometimes be very controversial because of some evil traits. One of the good examples of protagonist who is controversial would be Becky Sharp from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, who is occasionally be very manipulative in order to achieve her own interests.

Example #3: As I Lay Dying (By William Faulkner)

There are ensemble stories that do not particularly highlight either one of the characters more than the rest. For instance, Addie Bundren’s demise in the novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, results in her family traveling a long way to bury her, and they all tell the story from their own perspectives, which makes them all equally important to the story. Thus, it leaves us with more than one protagonist in the same story.

Protagonist Examples from Cinema

Example #4: Star Wars (By George Lucas)

George Lucas develops the character of Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars. He plays an outwardly naïve farm boy. Luke desperately wants a life different from his monotonous existence. After his uncle’s and aunt’s demise, he has no other choice but to join forces with Obi-wan Kenobe. Luke later matures to understand the customs of The Force. His antagonist in the movie is Darth Vader, who turns out to be Luke’s father. They both get into a major conflict but eventually Luke succeeds.

Function of Protagonist

A protagonist is a very important tool to develop a story. There are different terms for a protagonist, such as hero, focal character, central character, and main character. Regardless of what title you give a protagonist, he or she remains the key ingredient in the development of the story, which is why the story revolves around him or her. More often than not the protagonist is fair and virtuous, and is always supporting the moral good. Further in the plot the protagonist may undergo some change, which will probably be the climax of the story.

Being the central element puts grave responsibilities on the shoulders of a protagonist. Since, the story revolves around the protagonist, he is the one who has to work as an emotional heart of the story, helping the audience connect with it on a basic level. A well-constructed protagonist attracts the audience emotionally.  It helps them relate to the joys, fears, and hopes of the character in the story.

The events occurring in a story are always viewed from the perspective of the protagonist. The audience decides whether or not a particular event is favorable in a story. A wedding is an important and positive event in The Sound of Music because it is a positive event for the protagonist, Maria. However, the same kind of event in the movie While You Were Sleeping would be unfortunate because in that case the protagonist Lucy was marrying the wrong person.

Some stories weave many characters into an ensemble story, but even in such stories there is often one character that is more important to the story than the rest. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy there are many characters that have great significance to the story, but Frodo Baggins is the one who stands out, because everyone else’s destiny rests in his hands.

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