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Jody is the central character and the protagonist of the novel. At the beginning of the book, he is a somewhat selfish and naive youth of ten; however, during the course of the plot development, he matures into a responsible young man.
Jody's challenge, and therefore his antagonist, is growing up. During the book he has several sad experiences that teach him important lessons about life: how to face and accept death, how to have compassion for the aging generation facing death, how to relate to and trust in another human being, and how to be a less self-centered and more sensitive person.
The protagonist, Jody Tiflin, undergoes various experiences in the four different sections of the novel. After each experience, he has learned something that helps in his maturing process. Through the first two stories, or chapters, Jody understands more about himself and life.
Then in the third chapter, when Billy Buck kills Nellie in order to save Jody's colt, the youth learns the real meaning of selfishness and is made to feel guilty about it. In the fourth chapter, Jody proves he has matured into a caring and responsible young man. He sacrifices his desires for the happiness of his grandfather.
The moment of proof, or the climax of the plot, comes when Jody offers his grandfather a glass of lemonade. It is a small gesture, but it is symbolic that the protagonist has become an unselfish man.
The story ends as a comedy, for Jody has grown into a compassionate and responsible young man.