False protagonist

In fiction, a false protagonist is a literary technique, often used to make the plot more jarring or more memorable by fooling the audience's preconceptions, that constructs a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist but is later revealed not to be.

A false protagonist is presented at the start of the fictional work as the main character, but is then removed from the role, often by killing them (usually for shock value or as a plot twist) or changed in terms of their role in the story (i.e. making them a lesser character, a character who leaves the story, or revealing them to actually be the antagonist).[1]

Overview [ edit ]

In film, a character can be made to seem like the main protagonist based on a number of techniques (beyond just simply focusing the plot on their role). Star power is a very effective method; audience members generally assume that the biggest "name" in a movie will have a significant part to play. An abundance of close-ups can also be used as a subliminal method. Generally, the star of a film will get longer-lasting and more frequent close-ups than any other character, but this is rarely immediately apparent to viewers during the film. Alternatively, the false protagonist can serve as a narrator to the movie, encouraging the audience to assume that the character survives to tell their tale later.[2]

Many of the same techniques used in film can also apply to television, but the episodic nature adds an additional possibility. By ending one or more episodes with the false protagonist still in place, the show can reinforce the viewers' belief in the character's protagonist status. Also, because TV shows often have changes of cast between seasons, some series can have unintentional false protagonists: characters who begin the series as the main character but then are replaced early in the show's run by another character entirely. When the series is viewed as a whole, this can lead to the appearance of a false protagonist.

In video games, a false protagonist may initially be a playable character, only to be killed or revealed to be the antagonist. One key way in which video games employ the method that differs from uses in non-interactive fiction is by granting the player direct control over the false protagonist. Since most video games allow a player to control only the main characters (and their success or failure is based on playing skill, not pre-determined story), the sudden demise of the character that is being controlled serves to surprise the player.

Examples [ edit ]

Literature [ edit ]

The Book of Samuel starts with Samuel as a young boy. He was the main focus in the first few chapters until he eventually becomes a minor character.
  • The Book of Samuel begins with Samuel's birth and God's call to him as a boy. At this point, the readers are led to believe that Samuel is the central figure in the book. Though by the sixteenth chapter, the book starts to primarily focus on David.[3]
  • The story of Aladin in the Arabian Nights begins with a sorcerer making a difficult journey all the way from Morocco to China, on a quest for a marvelous magic lamp - giving the clear impression that he is the protagonist. Even when he makes contact with the boy Aladin, pretending to be his long-lost uncle, this is still told from the sorcerer's point of view. Only after the sorcerer quarrels with Aladin and leaves him trapped in a dark cavern does the point of view shift to Aladin and it becomes clear that he is the true protagonist and that the sorcerer is the story's antagonist.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's story The Roads Must Roll begins with a stormy meeting at the Guild Hall of the technicians maintaining the story's great "roadtowns" (wide rapidly moving passenger platforms which are the main means of transport in the US). "Shorty" Van Kleeck, a senior engineer appears, expressing his sympathy with the technicians' grievances and in a stirring speech places himself at their head, calling for immediate strike action. To begin with, he seems to be the protagonist. However, the strikers then ruthlessly stop the road without warning, heedless of many passengers being killed and wounded. Later, Van Kleeck threatens to blow up the road, which could lead to the killing of millions. It becomes clear that he is the antagonist, a power-mad psychopath. The story's point of view shifts to Chief Engineer Larry Gaines, who firmly proceeds to put down the rebel technicians, and is evidently the true protagonist - with his finally subduing Van Kleeck shown as a happy ending.
  • George R. R. Martin's novel A Game of Thrones, the first entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, features chapters told from the point of view of numerous characters, though the most prominent is Ned Stark, who is generally assumed to be the novel's main protagonist until the final chapters where he is unexpectedly executed.[4][5]

Film [ edit ]

See also [ edit ]

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ Christopher W. Tindale (2007). Fallacies and Argument Appraisal. Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–33. ISBN 978-0-521-84208-2.
  2. ^ Jonason, Peter K.; Webster, Gregory D.; Schmitt, David P.; Li, Norman P.; Crysel, Laura. "The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits". Review of General Psychology. 16 (2): 192–199. doi:10.1037/a0027914.
  3. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  4. ^ Hibberd, James (June 12, 2011). "Game of Thrones recap: The Killing". Entertainment Weekly. p. 1. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  5. ^ Poniewozik, James (June 13, 2011). "Game of Thrones Watch: The Unkindest Cut". Time. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  6. ^ Leigh, Janet. Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995. ISBN 0-517-70112-X.
  7. ^ Byron, Glennis; Townshend, Dale (October 8, 2013). The Gothic World. Google Books: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415637442.
  8. ^ Hutson, Thommy (2016). Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: The Making of Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  9. ^ Shimabukuro, Karra (2016). "I Framed Freddy: Functional Aesthetics in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series". In Clayton, Wickham (ed.). Style and Form in the Hollywood Slasher Film. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 56. ISBN 9781137496478.
  10. ^ Nat Brehmer (August 6, 2019). ""Tell 'Em Freddy Sent Ya:" Why 'Dream Master' is the Distilled Essence of Freddy Mania". That's Not Current. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
  11. ^ Jacobs, Matthew (December 20, 2016). "Drew Barrymore Looks Back At The Shocking Opening Scene Of 'Scream'". HuffPost. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
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