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The term "antagonist" seems a little intimidating at first. But in truth, it is just a big word that refers to a fairly simple concept. To put the matter as simply as possible: the term antagonist can be more or less translated as "bad guy". It is one of many character types that authors use when writing stories.

A clear definition

The antagonist is the character within a story who is trying to stop the "hero" (or protagonist) character from achieving success. These characters are often written about in literature stories. Sometimes, the antagonist himself does not have to a morally bad person per se. But s/he becomes bad within the context of a story because of the simple fact that his/her interests are opposed to the hero's interest. This glossary entry includes the definition as well as examples of them in use.

Antagonist examples and usage

Here are some examples of the word antagonist used in sentences. 

  • "The dramatic pulse of the narrative is strongly driven by the protagonist's efforts to find the woman of his dreams and the antagonist's jealous efforts to thwart him." 
  • "In the Harry Potter series, the title character is destined by birth to ultimately have a showdown with his antagonist Voldemort, who is more or less a personification of pure evil." 
  • "When Jesus goes off into the desert for forty days, he is sorely tempted by his antagonist Satan in every way; but according to the Gospel accounts, he passes the the test." 

If you are still unclear about the meaning of the term antagonist, here are two key rules you can follow in order to make sure you understand the concept in the right way. 

1. Antagonist is a relative term: the antagonist is simply the person who opposes the hero of the story. So, in order to find the antagonist of a story, just find the main character, and then figure out who is getting in his way. 

2. Not all stories necessarily have an antagonist who can be clearly defined as a person. For example, the "antagonist" could simply be fate, or society, or some power (like fear or boredom) within the hero's own mind.  

The protagonist/antagonist comparison

The contrast between the words antagonist and protagonist is an elegant one: you can notice the opposition between the Greek prefixes "anti" (which means "against") and "pro" (which means "in favor"). The protagonist is in favor of his own actions and interests, whereas the antagonist is against the hero's actions and interests. 

The concept of an antagonist is probably as hold as the human species itself. This is because since the very beginning, people have had to struggle for their survival, even if just against hunger and cold. In this primitive example, the environment itself would be antagonist that must be overcome.  

And of course, people have always had to struggle against each other as well. From an infant's perspective, anyone who tries to "steal" his mother's attention away from him would be his antagonist; from the perspective of a love-struck young man, the antagonist would be anyone else who is competing with him for the hand of his romantic interest; and so on. In short, the idea of an antagonist would seem to deeply rooted in the very nature of human beings.

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