How to become the main protagonist of a great American novel

By Lacie Fincher

Guy Montag and Scout Finch may seem to be radically different characters in their respective settings, but the two celebrities would most likely give similar answers if asked about the qualifications of a successful protagonist in twentieth century literature.

The diversity of their stories, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, only proves that there is an art to being the star of the show. Both would agree that the most useful traits in becoming the main protagonist would be curiosity, boldness, and openness. These qualities allow the author the freedom necessary to take a novel to unknown heights.

Curiosity is a characteristic that Guy and Scout display from the opening pages. Scout asks roughly fifty questions in the first five chapters alone. Guy isn’t far behind with the same amount of questions in the first thirty pages of his storyline. Scout rarely asks closed questions, but instead embraces open-ended queries.

Though, Guy Montag’s questions were a tad different because many of them were personal musings that are never asked aloud. Without constant questioning, the novel would be dry and assuming, leaving the audience confused and frustrated because “Nobody ever told me why,” as Scout would say.

The second imperative characteristic would be boldness. Boldness allows a protagonist to ask the right questions, the tough questions, and the questions no one else dares to ask. It was boldness that led Montag to snatch a book while burning a home, boldness that found Montag pounding at Faber’s door, and boldness that allowed him to stand up to Beatty so that his friend would not be compromised when Montag’s ear piece was swiped.

Scout, of course, never lacked in boldness. She boldly answered Miss Cunningham’s questions as the class representative, she boldly told her uncle how parenting is supposed to be done, and she boldly stepped into a ring of angry townspeople.

Without boldness a character is unable to act on questions or the answers received from those questions.

This leads right into the third characteristic of a good protagonist: openness. Characters that are open are willing to embrace new ideas and are honest enough to reflect on the morality of their own views and choices.

Both Scout and Montag showed openness by not dismissing radical or strange worldviews that other people have. They respected and considered the viewpoints presented to them with open minds. This openness would not be present without an inquisitive and bold nature to back it up, but openness must be present in the protagonist from the beginning for bold questions to formulate. This last distinctive will change a person slowly and is considered in many ways the application, and therefore the lasting effect, of the first two personality traits.

Thinking about writing a 20th century novel anytime soon?

There are three main traits needed to become a compelling twentieth century protagonist, and a character must have all three because of their interlocking nature: curiosity leads to boldness, boldness leads to an open mind, which leads to either a bold move or more questions.  Only with all three qualities firmly in grasp can a starring protagonist be the person the author needs to create a deep and moving novel that will permeate culture for generations.