Antagonist in literature refers to a character or a group of characters that oppose the main character, known as the protagonist. The term derives from the Greek word "antagonistes," meaning "opponent," "competitor," or "rival." Typically, an antagonist is seen as the villain, pitted against the hero, in a struggle to either harm the protagonist or thwart their goals.
Examples of Antagonist in Literature
Example #1: Antigone (By Sophocles)
In Sophocles' tragedy "Antigone," King Creon serves as the antagonist, obstructing Antigone's efforts to provide her brother with a proper burial. Creon's evil intentions and actions, such as branding her brother a traitor and decreeing that he should remain unburied, create a conflict with Antigone's determination to honor her brother. This conflict drives the central theme of the play.
Example #2: Othello (By William Shakespeare)
In Shakespeare's "Othello," Iago emerges as a notorious antagonist. He spends the entire play scheming against Othello, the protagonist, and Othello's wife Desdemona. Through deceitful plots, Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful and ultimately manipulates Othello into killing his own wife. Iago's motivations remain mysterious, setting him apart as a complex antagonist.
Example #3: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (By Robert Louis Stevenson)
Rather than an external antagonist, Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" explores the concept of the antagonist existing within oneself. Dr. Jekyll creates Mr. Hyde through scientific experiments to separate the good and evil within him. Hyde becomes the manifestation of Jekyll's inner antagonist, leading to his own downfall. This story delves into the duality of human nature.
Example #4: To Kill a Mockingbird (By Harper Lee)
In Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," Bob Ewell represents a malevolent antagonist. Consumed by his conviction that Mayella may have committed a crime, Ewell is determined to ensure someone else takes the blame. His actions extend beyond the trial, as he stalks Atticus, Judge Taylor, and Helen Robinson. Ewell's antagonistic behavior ultimately leads to a violent confrontation, emphasizing the role of an antagonist in generating conflict.
Function of Antagonist
Conflict is a fundamental element of storytelling, and the antagonist plays a crucial role in creating it. The presence of an antagonist opposing the protagonist sets the stage for conflict and drives the plot. As the protagonist struggles against the antagonist's actions and intentions, the story unfolds, leading to a climax. The resolution of this conflict, whether through the antagonist's defeat or the protagonist's downfall, determines the outcome of the narrative, shaping its themes and messages.