Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Word 'Protagonist' Disputed

Did you know that the word 'protagonist' has Greek origins and literally means 'first contestant' or 'first character'?

Accordingly, there can only be one protagonist in a play or story, and it is the character who first appears. Therefore, when a novel is related in the first person, the protagonist is always the narrator, even if he/she is not the main character.

'Protagonist' has come to mean 'main character', and people often refer to multiple 'protagonists'. But if 'protagonist' is simply a major character, what name do we give to the character who first appears? Does it even matter?

It's nitpicking, I know, but the stickler in me wants a distinction. Do you?

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