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From the loyal Samwise Gamgee to the outlandish Captain Jack Sparrow, secondary characters play an important role in a storyline and are often just as memorable as the main ones. These secondary characters have a technical name in the English language: “deuteragonists.”

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What Is a Deuteragonist?

The definition of a deuteragonist (from the Greek deuteragōnistēs, for “second actor”) is the second most important and present character in a story—often called a secondary main character. The deuteragonist’s importance comes immediately after the protagonist (who is the main character in a story and is usually the primary point-of-view character).

What Is the Purpose of a Deuteragonist?

The deuteragonist often serves as a foil character to the protagonist, sharing some similar qualities and embodying certain very different ones in order to highlight the traits of each (for instance, an anti-hero protagonist may have a very heroic deuteragonist to highlight the differences of each character). In this way, deuteragonists are a great way to illustrate character development in your story’s protagonist.

Origins of Deuteragonists

In Ancient Greek drama, the traditional structure was to have only a protagonist role and a chorus (a group of dancers or singers who comment on the story as it unfolds). The idea of a secondary role came from the Greek playwright Aeschylus (who lived around 550 BCE), who, according to Aristotle in his Poetics, “first raised the number of the actors from one to two.” Aeschylus’s innovation of two leading characters paved the way for other Classical Greek dramatists, including Sophocles and Euripedes, and is now a staple of not only playwriting but fiction and film as well.

3 Types of Deuteragonists

The deuteragonist usually plays one of three roles:

  1. The sidekick: Many deuteragonists follow the protagonist around as a best friend or assistant, offering insight, comic relief, or serving as a gentle combatant (depending on the deuteragonist’s own conflict or goals). Good examples of protagonists and sidekick deuteragonists include Batman and Robin in the comic books and films, and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
  2. The antagonist: Often, a secondary character can be the antagonist of a story if their goals conflict with the protagonist’s. An antagonist is only considered the deuteragonist if they are especially present in the story and play a major role—for example, Luke Skywalker (protagonist) and Darth Vader (an antagonist deuteragonist) in Star Wars.
  3. The love interest: In love stories, the second most important character is usually the love interest of the main character—for instance, Will Turner (protagonist) and Elizabeth Swann (a love interest deuteragonist) in Pirates of the Carribean.

7 Examples of Deuteragonists

There are strong examples of deuteragonists in all sorts of media and genres. Here are a few well-known ones:

  1. Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes (protagonist: Sherlock Holmes)
  2. Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (protagonist: Huckleberry Finn; tritagonist: Tom Sawyer)
  3. Darth Vader in Star Wars (protagonist: Luke Skywalker; another deuteragonist: Han Solo)
  4. Sam in The Lord of the Rings (protagonist: Frodo)
  5. Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight (protagonist: Batman/Bruce Wayne)
  6. Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean (protagonist: Will Turner; another deuteragonist: Elizabeth Swann)
  7. Hermione Granger in Harry Potter (protagonist: Harry Potter; another deuteragonist: Ron Weasley)