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Chemistry LibreTexts

Using Characters to Build an Argument

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    • Characters play a critical role in any story. When theme is an argument, characters become one of the tools authors use to support their argument.
    • The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often overcomes a flaw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new understanding by the work’s end. A protagonist who acts with great honor or courage may be called a hero. 
    • An antihero is a protagonist lacking these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. 
    • The protagonist’s journey is enriched by encounters with characters who hold differing beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast with the protagonist’s and highlight important features of the main character’s personality. 
    • The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success.


    Nick Carraway narrates the story, but it is Jay Gatsby who is the novel’s protagonist. Gatsby’s love affair with Daisy, her marriage to Tom, and Gatsby’s quest to regain Daisy’s affection provide the story’s narrative arc and they also support the argument Fitzgerald is making in his book.


    As you read the next chapter, pay particular attention to the characters in the chapter. How do they support the argument? What about the characters in the previous chapters?