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The roots of English literature can be found in the late part of the first millennium in the year of the Lord. The protagonists of these first literary developments were generally kings. Over the coarse of several progressive centuries a diversely broader group of protagonists has been taken on. This group possesses more distinctive qualities than its predecessors. English literature’s main character has grown immensely since the beginning of its revolution and, it continues to thrive at the present day.

The epic Beowulf marks the origin of the evolution process. The protagonist in this story is Beowulf, the nephew of Higlac, king of the Geats. Beowulf is a great warrior with virtually no weakness when he is young. It seems that nothing can stand in his way. He slays horrific beasts with little effort and even battles underwater for hours at a time. He is equivalent to the contemporary comic-book superhero. As time passes, he inevitably grows old, and a dragon takes his life.

Literary works that follow Beowulf contain main characters with more advanced personalities and weaknesses while simultaneously and gradually lowering their social class. The short story “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, which were written in the Medieval Period, are magnificent examples of this improvement to the English protagonist. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, encompasses a knight with a slight inferiority complex, and a fear of death. These qualities contribute to a more advanced plotline than Beowulf. Sir Gawain can face a wider variety of adversity than Beowulf does because of his limiting humanistic attributes. Attributes, such as those, are depicted in The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Prologue focuses on twenty-nine different characters of varying social class who each tell two stories on a pilgrimage they take to Canterbury. Chaucer describes these characters’ physical features, their attire and occupation, and their various eccentricities. He places great emphasis on their flaws.


After Chaucer, the English literary protagonist progresses in a notably similar fashion as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales did. That is, lower social classes and more advanced personalities are given to main characters. Other aspects follow. After males dominate the protagonist role for centuries, the opposite sex is taken into consideration by later authors. In 11, George Bernard Shaw features a female as the main character in his play Pygmalion. Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl with a detestable English dialect, is this central character. She desires to take speech lessons from a phonetics professor in the play. Her character shows a steadily increasing maturity throughout the play. The ability to mature and grow has developed greatly throughout the coarse of the English protagonist’s evolution. A character such as Eliza would never have been conceptualized in the time of Beowulf.

A character such as Winston Smith would not have been thought of in that time either. George Orwell conceives this character in his novel 184. Smith is a member of the lower social class in 184 called the Outer Party. He also possesses a rebellious and unethical personality. His unorthodox qualities allow him to indulge himself in behavior that is strictly forbidden by the current standing communist government, and they allow him to completely despise the Party’s world of false information. As a result, he joins the Brotherhood, an underground terrorist group, to help overthrow the Party.

The character Winston Smith has a very different and more advanced persona than Beowulf does. The basic evolution of the English protagonist starts with the stereotypical super-hero and moves to the unethical and rebellious anomaly. This anomaly has underlying motives and weaknesses. These characteristics were acquired gradually over the entire evolution of the English protagonist. Other aspects that were developed over that evolutionary time period are, and will remain to be, personality, variety in social class, and gender. There is still much more room for the English protagonist to grow. It does not show any signs of yielding to its current progressive motion.

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