Definition of Deuteragonist

Deuteragonist is a secondary main character after the protagonist. The word deuteragonist is derived from the Grecian term ‘deuteragonist’ which means the second actor. It first appeared during the Grecian heydays of drama as a second actor who was either a leader, an actor or even could be a villain.

In literary devices, it means a second support actor, the second main character, or a character having secondary importance following the protagonist. In narratives, he or she stands by the protagonist or supports actively participating in different activities with him. However, he or she could go against the protagonist in some circumstances which points to the independence of this character. In the Grecian plays that survived the ravages of time, he is one of the three main Grecian actors with two others; protagonist and tritagonist. For example, Jocasta in Oedipus Rex is a deuteragonist, while the Shepherd or the Messenger, too are the supporting actors.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead!
That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,
Which too untimely here did scorn the earth.
This day’s black fate on more days doth depend.
This but begins the woe others must end.

This conversation shows Benvolio not only supporting Romeo Montague but also showing his proximity to him. Although he is expressing his grief, it also shows that he is a deuteragonist and very close to him rather than the other ones. He is informing Romoe about the death of Mercutio to assuage his sorrow for him.

Example #2

A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think,Watson, that you have put on seven and a halfpounds since I saw you.”
“Seven!” I answered.“
Indeed, I should have thought a little more.Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you intended to go into harness.”
“Then, how do you know?”
“I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girl?

This excerpt occurs in A Scandal in Bohemia, a great story from the Sherlock Holmes series, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He has presented Dr. Watson not only as the foil of Holmes but also as his aide, supporting him whenever he becomes very depressed or disappointed. He seems a true deuteragonist as he helps Holmes whenever he needs him and also advises him about other issues.

Example #3

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Tom he made a sign to me—kind of a little noise with hismouth—and we went creeping  away on our hands and knees. When we was ten foot off Tom whispered to me, and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun. But I said no; he might wake and make a distur-bance, and then they’d find out I warn’t in. Then Tom said he hadn’tgot candles enough, and he would slip in the kitchen and get somemore. I didn’t want him to try. I said Jim might wake up and come. But Tom wanted to resk it; so we slid in there and got three candles,and Tom laid five cents on the table for pay. Then we got out, and I was in a sweat to get away; but nothing would do Tom but he mustcrawl to where Jim was, on his hands and knees, and play somethingon him. I waited, and it seemed a good while, everything was so stilland lonesome.

This passage shows Huck telling about himself, as well as about Tom and Jim. As Jim seems closer to him than Tom, it seems that he is the deuteragonist of the novel. He stays with Huck and helps him in every way. It is clear from the narrative of Huck that he does not want Jim to be tied even if it is fun. Therefore, Tom is a tritagonist and not a deuteragonist. The reason is that Tom is not close to Huck as much as Jim. Jim not only stands by him but also helps him.

Example #4

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The door of the house where the boy lived was unlocked and he opened it and walked in quietly with his bare feet. The boy was asleep on a cot in the first room and the old man could see him clearly with the light that came in from the dying moon. He took hold of one foot gently and held it until the boy woke and turned and looked at him. The old man nodded and the boy took his trousers from the chair by the bed and, sitting on the bed, pulled them on.

This passage occurs in the popular novel of Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway has clearly shown the boy working for the old man, Santiago, and Santiago taking care of him as he is his son or the closest person on the terrace. He goes to wake him up to assist him in taking the gear to his skiff. Only a deuteragonist could do and support such as Manolin, the boy does for Santiago.

Function of Deuteragonist

In stories and novels, a deuteragonist is an important character. He proves a foil to the hero or the protagonist if the novelist or the writer wants to paint a real and good picture of the hero as a human being having good qualities with some flaws. A deuteragonist not only corrects the mistakes of the protagonist but also advises him when he is in trouble, or he faces some issue. He also serves as a foil to show the readers the difference that they could understand between different characters. It could be that sometimes a protagonist is an anti-hero or the writer wants to show some anti-hero as a protagonist, then the deuteragonist enters the stage to show another side of a good character in contrast to that anti-hero. Yet, sometimes, writers do not create any such characters at all.