What Is an Antagonist?

Derived from the Greek word, antagonistes, meaning opponent, the antagonist is a character who stands in opposition to the central character, also known as the protagonist. Antagonists drive the plot of a literary work forward by providing

Antagonists are typically considered the “bad guy” in a literary work. Iago, who projects his jealousy on to Othello and contributes to the tragic downfall of that protagonist, is the classic antagonist. The antagonist can be a foil to the main character; that is, he or she has contrasting character traits. Iago’s cold intellectualism, for instance, contrasts with Othello’s passionate nature.

How Do You Identify the Antagonist in Writing?

Antagonists serve an important function in literary works, films, and anime: They introduce conflict. Without the antagonist, there would be no plot. To locate the antagonist in a given work, look for the person or entity that is causes a problem the main character must resolve.

Sometimes a work contains more than one antagonist. For instance, Bob Ewell is the obvious antagonist in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. But his ignorance and racism represent elements of the Old South Atticus that prevail against Atticus Finch’s defense of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, even though Ewell eventually dies. The antagonist in the novel is also the Old South itself.

Examples of Antagonists

Antagonist Example 1. In the cartoon and film series Batman,  there are multiple antagonists: the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and Catwoman.

Antagonist Example 2. The antagonist in Orwell’s 1984 is the government, represented by the all-knowing figure of Big Brother.

Antagonist Example 3. Harry Potter’s notorious antagonist is Lord Voldemort, the murderer of the young magician’s mother and father.

Antagonist Example 4. President Coriolanus Snow is the main antagonist in the Hunger Games, but the entire government is an antagonistic force against which Katniss battles.

Antagonist Example 5. The antagonist in The Wizard of Oz is the Wicked Witch of the West.

Antagonist Example 6. The antagonist in Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone is Creon, who refuses to allow Antigone to give her brother a citizen’s burial.

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