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The protagonist is John Tanner. He is obstinately difficult, revolutionary in his perspective, and disdainful of marriage and other social norms. He knows he is drawn magnetically to Ann Whitefield, but he is stubbornly repelled by the conventionality of courtship and marriage, as well as by her control of the situation. He fights the inevitability of marriage valiantly, but in the end can do little more than half-heartedly accept his fate and marry the girl who has been pursuing him since childhood.
There are actually two antagonists: one is Ann Whitefield and the other is John Tannerís ego. Ann Whitefield pursues John Tanner with a vengeance that leaves him frightened and looking for an escape. She has plotted from a very early age to obtain John Tanner as her own, whether it be to separate him from his early infatuation with another woman or to rope him in as her guardian. She is determined and confident that John Tanner will eventually be her husband. According to Tannerís own theory on life, she has no choice; her purpose is to sustain and reproduce life. Ann is an antagonist only in the sense that she provides dramatic conflict for Tanner.
Ann Whitefield tells Octavius Robinson that she cannot marry him, going so far as to lie and say her mother wishes her to marry John Tanner. Octavius, in turn, congratulates Tanner; and his sister Violet tells Tanner he has no choice. Ann then reveals her determination outright. John Tanner sees no escape and decides to give in to the Life Force he believes in and agrees to marry Ann.
The play ends as a comedy. John overcomes his ideas about being a Superman, above loves and marriage. He succumbs to the Life Force and agrees to marry Ann, whom he has always loved.