Who is a Protagonist in a Story

Knowing who a protagonist is in a story lets you understand the characters of a story better. A story is built up of a number of elements such as plot, mood, setting, themes, and characters.  Of these elements, characters are very important to a story as a story is built around the actions of these characters. They are the ones who take the story to different paths. The types of characters that make up a story are main characters and  minor characters. The main character of a story is what we call protagonist. Protagonist helps you to decide what to expect from the story. In this article, we will first talk about the definition of the word protagonist and the description of it and then move on to discuss the protagonists of different stories.

Definition of Protagonist

Protagonist is the main character or the leading character of a novel, drama, film, or any story. You will see that the story generally focuses on this character. The story flows based on the decisions this character makes. In the past, the protagonist was always a hero or a heroine. That means the main character is a good person, who does good things. He or she is someone who goes through a quest looking for something. A good protagonist ends up doing good for the people around him or her and becoming a better person. However, the protagonist is a hero is no longer the followed practice. You can see different creations where the protagonist is not a hero, but an anti-hero. He or she is a villain. You will also see that in some stories the protagonist is also the narrator. This happen when the narration uses first person point of view. Then, there are other stories where the protagonist is not the narrator as the narrator is someone outside, like the author who watches the movements the protagonist makes.

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Examples of Protagonists

Now that we have understood who a protagonist is in a story, let us see some examples for protagonists in different literary works.

In the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, the protagonist is Elizabeth Bennet. Someone can argue that Mr. Darcy also has a lot to play in the story. However, the author follows Elizabeth and not Darcy. That shows that Elizabeth is the protagonist of the story. Like in any story, Elizabeth as the leading character goes through a journey of life that throws obstacles at her. She has to protect her family, her own honour, and take decisions that at times would also mean accepting she was wrong.

In the play ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare, Macbeth is the protagonist. However, he is not our typical protagonist as Macbeth is not a hero. He is an anti-hero. This is because Macbeth changes during the course of the story. Macbeth is a good man at the beginning of the story. However, then he lets avarice for power consume him. As a result, he becomes a murderer, a tyrant, a disgrace to the man who he once was. The play explores this destructive nature of human beings when it comes to power. At the end, he gets what an anti-hero should have. He pays for the wrongs he did with his life.

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Then, in the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ by Scott Fitzgerald, we see the narrator and the protagonist as two different characters clearly. The protagonist of the story or the character around whom the whole story is woven is Jay Gatsby. Everything that happens in the story happens as a result of the decisions he make. Then, the narrator of the story is Nick Carraway. Using the first person point of view, Nick tells us the story. However, you can see that the whole story revolves around Gatsby. That is why the story begins when Nick moves to West Egg next to Gatsby’s mansion and ends with Gatsby’s death. We follow what Gatsby does. Every other character is related to Gatsby. Gatsby is more of an anti-hero as he becomes rich using dishonest means.


Protagonist is the main character or the leading character of a novel, drama, film, or any story. A protagonist can be a hero or an anti-hero. Examples for heroic protagonists are characters such as Elizabeth Bennent. Examples for anti-heroic protagonist are Macbeth and Gatsby.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Macbeth via Wikicommons (Public Domain)
  2. Gatsby by irina slutsky (CC BY – 2.0 )

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