Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Omnitagonist

I love looking at web search keywords. Sometimes they make you think. I recently had a hit on my blog from someone in Mayagez, Puerto Rico with the search phrase when the protagonist is the antagonist. That gave me something to think about. Is it possible? If so, just what are we talking about?

My first thought was of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are essentially two completely different characters that just happen to share the same body. I also thought of Agatha Christie’s Endless Night, but decided that it also falls short of having the protagonist as the antagonist. Where we do see it is in Romans chapter seven, near the end where Paul is talking about the war between the flesh and the inward man. The chapter ends with the statement, “So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” This is the struggle of the Christian, but how does that translate into a story that we might write in a book?

What we have is a duplicity. The protagonist, by his nature, sets out to accomplish something and must accomplish change. The antagonist, by his nature, sets out to thwart the efforts of the protagonist. If we combine the two, the omnitagonist (To coin a word, an omnitagonist is a character who is both the protagonist and the antagonist.) must both attempt to accomplish his goal and attempt to prevent himself from accomplishing that goal. The omnitagonist is fighting the man in the mirror.

We aren’t talking about a simple story with a hero and a villain. What motives a hero is the direct opposite of what motivates a villain. We can put the hero and villain face to face and they do battle. The omnitagonist is different. He fights for his goal with one motivation and fights against his goal with an unrelated motivation. Let’s look at an example:

Bob is a happily married man with a wife who loves him, a son and a daughter who are good kids most of the time and a dog whose only real vice is that he likes to bark at the moon, just outside the bedroom window. Bob, a Christian man, takes his role as the spiritual leader of his family very seriously and does what he can to provide for their spiritual wellbeing. At work, Bob sees an opportunity for a promotion. It isn’t that far out of reach, but he’ll need to put in time on Sunday if he is going to impress the boss.

The protagonist and the antagonist is very similar, so much so that we can often swap them with a simple point of view change. They both have goals and these goals are contradictory. The omnitagonist has two goals and he can’t have it both ways. Or can he? We often see stories in which the protagonist and the antagonist must come together in some form of compromise in order to achieve something great. We may also see this with the omnitagonist. The omnitagonist has several options. He may fail to accomplish either goal. He may choose one goal, making it his higher priority. He may combine the two goals. He may find a goal that is better than either goal. Whatever he does, the conflict of the omnitagonist is primarily internal as he holds a debate with himself as to which direction to go.