Grade: Senior
Subject: Literature

#3032. The Nature of the Antagonist

Literature, level: Senior
Posted Tue Jan 20 16:31:07 PST 2004 by Christopher Stanchek (
University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, PA, USA
Materials Required: List of Key Questions (Listed in Introductory Section), Group Project Worksheet, List of Groups
Activity Time: 50 Minutes to 80 Minutes
Concepts Taught: Character Analysis, Conflict, Protagonists and Antagonists, Heroes and Villains

Goal of this lesson:
To understand the differences between protagonists and antagonists
To recognize the fundamental purpose of an antagonist or villain in storytelling
To understand conflict as used in literature
To challenge traditional stereotypes associated with heroes and villains and realize that in literature and life, characters and the themes/ideals they represent are always dependent on the individual story and situation
To use these newfound ideas and diversified ways of thinking to create characters (villains) and the many different aspects of their personas, lives, motives, and ideologies
To introduce students to in-depth character analysis

Clerical/Administrative Tasks
Prior To Class:
Make one copy of in-class worksheet for each member of the class (20 total)
Make one copy of group project worksheet for each member of the class (20 total)
Place worksheets for in-class discussion on Jane Does desk

At the Start of Class:
Take roll

Instructional Objectives (Student-centered, observable, and precise statements of what students will be able to do)
By the end of class, TSWBAT recall the basic definitions of protagonists/antagonists, heroes/villains based on a Question and Answer session conducted at the beginning of class.
By the end of class, TSWBAT recall the four types of conflict based on a Question and Answer session conducted at the beginning of class.
By the end of class, TSWBAT question and challenge the stereotypical definitions/limitations often placed on the concepts of protagonist and antagonist based on an in-class worksheet and in-class discussion.
By the end of class, TSWBAT create their own villains/antagonists in cooperative groups based on a rubric of questions.
By the end of class, TSWBAT apply the concepts examined in this lesson to future in-depth analyses of characters in literature, film, and storytelling.

Introduction (attention getter, anticipatory set, discrepant event, open-ended problem scenario, engagement)

The Introduction to this lesson will be a Question and Answer session that will briefly examine the concept of conflict in literature and the types of conflicts in literature. It will then move into a discussion of characterization, describing the protagonist and antagonist generally, then more specifically the hero and villain. The discussion will conclude with a statement about the function of the antagonist/villain in storytelling. (15 minutes)

Key Questions:
Tell students that conflict is an essential component to every form of effective storytelling and literature, as conflict provides the reader with the action and interest of the story.
What is conflict?
-A conflict can be seen as a struggle between two opposing forces (The Writing Center @ Delmar College)
-Wait for responses, prompt students when necessary
-Write the word conflict on the blackboard
What are the four types of conflict that are used in literature?
The first and main type of conflict is Man versus Man, or Person vs. Person conflict
-If necessary, lead students to this answer by asking, If student A and student B decide to fight over something, that could be described as a conflict between twoK.?Xthe answer would be a conflict between two people
-Write Person vs. Person on the blackboard
-The second type of conflict is Man (or person) versus Nature
-If necessary, lead students to this answer by asking, If student A has problems getting to school during the winter because of the snowfall and icy conditions, this could be described as a conflict or struggle withK? The answer would be a conflict between Student A and the weather, or more generally, a conflict between Student A and nature.
-Write Person vs. Nature on the blackboard
-The third type of conflict is Man (or person) versus Society
-If necessary, lead students to this answer by asking, If a person has problems finding a job because he/she does not have the education typically seen as necessary for getting a job, this could be seen as a conflict between this person andK? The answer would be a conflict between this person and the society that changed and decided that he or she needed more education in order to get a job.
-Write Person vs. Society on the blackboard
-The fourth type of conflict is Man (or person) versus Himself
-If necessary, lead students to this answer by asking, If a person has difficulty finding a job because he or she is inherently lazy or unwilling to even try, and this person decides to fight against his or her own urges and inner qualities in order to change, this could be seen as a conflict between a person andK? The answer would be a conflict between the person and some part of his or her inner self, a conflict between the person and himself/herself.
-Write Person vs. Himself/Herself on the blackboard

Transition into, The person on one side of the versus is typically known as the protagonist.
-Write the word protagonist on the blackboard
Can anyone describe the function of a protagonist in his or her own words?
-If necessary, lead students to the answer by telling them that the protagonist is the main character of the work on whom the author places the primary focus.
-A hero is a specific form of the protagonist and one with which all of us are familiar. Write the word hero on the blackboard.

Transition into, Now, if the protagonists is on one side of the versus, who is on the other side?
-If necessary, lead students to the answer by telling them that the person on the other side, the opposition to the main character, protagonist, or hero of the work is known as the antagonist. Write the word antagonist on the blackboard.

Transition into, Before we delve too deeply into the functions of the protagonist, were going to first examine the antagonist.
If a specific form of a protagonist is a hero, what specific form of antagonist, with whom were all very familiar, would counter the hero?
-If necessary, tell students that the opposite of the hero in literature, movies, and storytelling is typically the villain.
-Were all very familiar with the concept of a villain.
-Write the word villain on the blackboard.
-Im sure weve all heard this word used hundreds of times before in movies, television, music, and literature. Who/What are some of the most memorable villains from your experience in literature, movies, and storytelling?Xwait for responses, prompt students if necessary.

Now, from your own experience, we are going to analyze the stereotypical idea of the villain to decide what makes a villain distinct from the hero. How do you know the differences between a villain and a hero? What do villains typically look like? Is there a particular style of clothing, a particular color, or a particular look that sets a villain apart from a hero?
-Wait for responses, prompt students when necessary. Summarize answers in one or two words and place them on blackboard.

Are these visual, aesthetic differences always clear-cut? Are these differences always physically detectable in antagonists or is the line blurred?
-Wait for responses, prompt students when necessary. Ask them how they feel.

If the differences arent physically detectable, maybe its a difference in the hearts, minds, and souls of each, an inner difference.
What are the internal qualities that typically separate the hero and the villain? What qualities does the villain possess?
-Ask the students to draw upon their own experiences, villains theyve encountered in literature and in movies and in storytelling, what about them made them the villain?
-Sum up student answers in one or two words on the blackboard.
-Some possible answers to this could be that the villain may lie, cheat, steal, or kill in order to achieve their aims and goals. Willingness to sacrifice anything but themselves to achieve their desired goal. Wickedness, anger, jealousy, maliciousness, bad.
-These qualities stand in direct opposition to the hero, who typically possesses selflessness, bravery, and compassion. Stands to aid and benefit everyone else whether it is at the expense of themselves or not.
-A villain, who is a form of the antagonist as we recall, stands in direct opposition to the heros ideologies and actions, and that is the inherent nature of the antagonist, to stand in opposition of the hero in action, belief, and/or purpose.

Developmental Activities (Instructional components that provide opportunities for students to make progress toward intended instructional objectives)

Transition from main discussion into an overview of the worksheet they will be completing.
Now we are going to examine some of the qualities that we just agreed that a typical villain possesses in order to more fully understand the complexities of villains and antagonists as a whole and to gauge our own thinking processes with regards to these inherent qualities. Were going to decide whether some of these qualities ALWAYS produce a villain or antagonist or whether its dependent on the situation. (1 minute)
Pass out worksheet to each student in the class. (2 minutes)
Give the students the directions on how to complete the worksheet: For each question on this worksheet, write next to it whether you think the person in question is right or wrong. Understand why you chose each answer to each question so you are able to defend your responses during the discussion we will have after everyone is finished completing the worksheet. (2 minutes)
Give the students time to complete the worksheet. (3-6 minutes)
As they are working on it, walk around and monitor student progress, particularly Jane Doe, who has a learning disability. Go to her and ask if she needs to hear the questions read to her or if she would like to read the questions orally. Assist with any difficulties in clarification she may have.

After students are finished, tell them that you will now be examining the worksheet and students responses to the questions as a class group. (30 seconds)
Ask for volunteers to read the first question and their answer. Ask them to provide their rationale for that answer. If no one raises his or her hand to volunteer, choose a student at random from the roster and ask them to read the question, their response, and their rationale. (1-2 minutes)
Once the first question is read, ask the class if anyone has a different response. If so, ask that person to explain why he or she chose that response as opposed to the other. (1-2 minutes)
Continue this process until each question has been answered and discussed as a class group. During this time, try to call upon students that arent raising their hands in order to include them in class discussion and hear their input. (anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on the discussion)

The point of this exercise was to demonstrate that these qualities do not determine with 100% accuracy whether a person is inherently good or inherently bad. (30 seconds)
As such we must not automatically assume that a character in literature, the movies, or storytelling will always be readily definable based upon a predetermined set of qualities we have set for them. (30 seconds)
Each character is different, each character has their own history, motives, ideas, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses and readers must not limit these characters to one particular stereotype based on a first reading, first viewing, or first encounter. (30 seconds)
In doing so, we limit ourselves as readers and may not be able to understand the true nature of a character. (10 seconds)
After all, as all human beings are not completely good or bad, neither are all characters in literature.
As such, authors typically create protagonists who are multifaceted and who may not be completely good and antagonists who may not be completely bad. (10-15 seconds)
This type of writing leads to highly complex, more interesting, more dynamic characters who are more identifiable to us as an audience. I personally can better identify with a hero who possesses some of the same human qualities and weaknesses as me because these characters become more real to me that way.
In this way, the plots, conflict, and actions of a story also become more interesting and even more unpredictable. We wish to read on! (30seconds to 1 minute)
IF TIME PERMITS: Ask students if they have ever encountered or can think of moments in movies or literature or storytelling where the villains or heroes are simply overdone and one-sided. On the other hand, are there villains who are so multifaceted that they are very interesting, even more so than the hero or protagonist? Examples of multifaceted antagonists or villains from movies may include Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, or Gollum. Explain reasoning behind each. (5 minutes)

Assessment/Evaluation (How you and the students will know that they learned. May be formative or summative)

Transition: As an extension of what we have discussed in class today, you will now have a group assignment to complete. In this assignment, you will create an antagonist or villain, examining each detail of this entitys existence in order to paint a well-rounded, multifaceted portrait of them. The assignment will be due by the beginning of class on Friday and each student in the group will be responsible for a page of questions. Collaboration will be necessary, as each member of the group will need to know how the rest of the group is responding to the questions posed by the assignment. As such, each group member will be able to contribute his or her own input and creative ideas to not only their own portion, but to the project as a whole. Answers to the questions will need to be typed and double-spaced. Each groups character will be examined in close detail in class on Friday. (1-2 minutes)
In creating your own characters, you will be able to more fully understand detailed characterization as an aspect of good storytelling. This will lead to a greater understanding of literary analysis, as characterization is a major portion of literature. (1 minute)
Tell the students who is in each group (primary list attached). (2-3 minutes)
Allow students to get into those groups. (1 minute)
Hand out the worksheets, instruct the groups to decide who will be doing which part, and allow students to start if time allows. (1 minute)

Conclusion (Closure; a planned wrap-up for the lesson)
Reiterate the fact that a type of character does not always dictate a certain set of ideologies, beliefs, and actions and a certain ideology, belief, or action does not always paint a full portrait of a character. (1 minute)
Remind students once again that the assignment is a group project and that it is due on Friday. Explain that they will have to get together outside of the classroom to complete the assignment. (1 minute)

Accommodations/Adaptations for Students with Special Needs

A large-print worksheet that has to do with the initial in-class question and answer session will be provided to Jane Doe.
This will allow her to follow along and fill in the appropriate words and key terms that I will write on the board during the lesson. I will monitor Jane Doe to ensure that she is writing down the appropriate words at the appropriate times during the question and answer session.
So that Jane Doe stays focused and attentive, I will make sure to call on her during the question and answer session so that she can incorporate her input into the discussion.

During the Worksheet session, I will monitor Jane Does progress; possibly having her read the questions aloud so I can clarify any problems or misunderstandings. I may also read the questions aloud to her if her attention needs focused; if she needs me to rephrase anything, I can do this during this time.

During the discussion after the worksheet session, I will call on Jane Doe so she can stay focused and incorporate her input into the discussion. I will provide her with a Large Print list of fill-in-the blank sentences that she will be able to complete as the discussion moves forward. I can monitor her progress and ensure that she is filling in the answers and staying focused on the discussion.

For the group project, I will have Jane Doe read over her section with me after class so she understands how she needs to answer each question and so she can clarify any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the questions.

Reflective Notes

How well were the students engaged in the in-class discussions?

Was everyone included?

Was there an atmosphere of interest and charisma on my part?

How well did I manage divergent responses and use of class time?

Technology Integration:

1.) 1 Computer with large screen projection capability: Activities that could supplement this Lesson Plan: During the Question and Answer session at the beginning of the lesson, the instructor, using the projection capabilities of the computer and the classroom, could type each students response into the word processor so that the students could see it displayed onscreen in large font in front of them. For the Moral Dilemmas worksheet featured in the developmental activities section of this lesson plan, the instructor could post a blank template onscreen in front of the students, and during the discussion, the instructor could paraphrase and type in student responses to each question so that each student in the class can see all the answers laid out visually at once. When describing the content of the Create a Villain project featured at the end of the lesson, the instructor could post the template onscreen so that students would have a large visual to capture and hold their attention. During the question and answer session at the beginning of the lesson, the instructor could have pictures of famous villains in a powerpoint, ready to supplement the discussion (i.e. in anticipation of students answers, the instructor could search the world wide web for pictures of such famous silver screen villains as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, The Wicked Witch of the West, Frankenstein, or Dracula).
2.) 6 Computers; 24 Students: If the class adheres to block scheduling, students could be divided into two groups of twelve. During half of the latter portion of the class, 12 students would be allowed to start work on their group project while the other 12 would participate in an exercise at the computer. This exercise would entail looking up on the American Film Institutes website ( the list of the greatest movie villains of all time. From there, the two students in each group of six would be asked to research one villain they do not know and report to another group or the instructor of their findings. This exercise would result in bonus points for the group based on how thoroughly they completed it.
Based once again upon block scheduling, 12 students could participate in an online scavenger hunt, combing through a list of questions about famous on-screen villains in order to acquire bonus points, while the other 12 students work on their group project. The group at the computer would then switch places with the groups working on their projects at the end of a set amount of time determined by the instructor.
During the latter portion of the class, 12 students at the computers could use the computers word processing capabilities to construct a form letter, whereby they could either write to their favorite villains, asking them a variety of questions, or they could assume the persona of one of their favorite villains and write a form letter (or ransom note or note outlining plans for world domination or something else creative) to the rest of the class. This project would work well with an interview as well, where one student assumes the persona of a well-known villain (or constructed one if the groups have made it that far in their project or if the students wish to start the interview from scratch) and the other student acts as an interviewer. The students would have to submit a transcript of the interview to me and for public speaking experience, could act out the interview in front of the class either at the end of the period or at the beginning of the period the following day. After a certain amount of time, the other 12 students would then have the opportunity to participate in this exercise.
Based on the Create Your Own Villain project, 12 students could use the computer during the latter portion of the class to construct a powerpoint presentation for their created villain rather than a traditional, written report. Students choosing this option would then unveil their presentation to the rest of the class at the end of the week when the report is due.
3.) Lab reserved for class with one computer for each student, each computer connected to the world wide
web: All students could participate in the online scavenger hunt named in the preceding section. The
template for scavenger hunt responses could be sent to each students email account prior to them
starting the lesson, and they could then learn to communicate electronically with the instructor by
emailing their
results to him or her at the end of a set amount of time.
Each student could construct a paragraph or paragraphs on the word processor outlining his or her
opinions regarding the nature of villainy in films, literature, and storytelling. Each response could
also outline how this villainy has transcended into our culture and into our minds (i.e. comparing the
motives of a fictitious villain to those of a real villain in our world today). The paragraph(s) could
then be submitted to the teacher electronically via email.
Each student could use the word processor available on the computer to take notes during in-class
During the latter portion of the class, each student could construct a powerpoint presentation based
upon their favorite villain/most memorable villain. The powerpoint could include slides pertaining to
what media the villain has appeared in, who created the villain initially, what vices the villain
possesses, and what about the villain makes them a villain. The students could then present their
short powerpoint presentation to the class, incorporating constructive suggestions from other
classmates into the overall design of the presentation.