In Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist, Rank struggles with both the death of his mother and the publication of Adam’s book. Ultimately, however, Rank’s behaviour towards Adam evolves throughout the book demonstrating that even in difficult situations a person is able to change from a self-involved bully into an insightful and caring person.
When Rank first reaches out to Adam via email he acts like a hostile bully. Rank begins by calling Adam “chubby and pompous” (3) even though he knows Adam would be horrified to be considered fat (6). Rank’s attitude towards Adam takes on an even more aggressive and bullying tone when he keeps drinking beer after beer “to help grease the wheels” (7). The injection of liquor provides Rank with the false bravado he needs to write to Adam, “Fuck you, traitorous fat man” (33). This statement not only uses profanity in a threatening but also draws again on Adam’s weight problem to insult and belittle him. Rank’s in full attack mode, bullies Adam, and reveals his self-centeredness when he explains to Adam, “I don’t care what happened on your end of things” (47). At this point in Rank’s development, he’s too hurt by the death of his mother and the publication of Adam’s book to see anything but his own limited perspective.
Later in the novel, Rank’s behaviour towards Adam changes, showing that Rank’s personality has altered; he’s no longer a self-involved bully. Rank’s emails to Adam begin to show kindness. When Rank needs to take a break from writing Adam, Rank states, “I hope you don’t mind if I take a break here” (292). This demonstrates Rank’s beginning to consider Adam’s feelings. Even though Rank still struggles with his mother’s death, he’s willing to accept Adam “didn’t write [the] book out of hate or love” (334). Instead, Rank’s open to accepting Adam’s “indifference” (334). Signaling how he’s changed into an insightful and caring person, Rank lets Adam know he accepts Adam “will never respond to [his] emails” and may have stopped reading them some time ago (335).
At the close of the novel, Rank’s transformation from bully to kind person is complete. Rank apologizes to Adam for all of the “gore and grief” he shared with Adam when he poured out his feelings about his mother’s death (337). Rank’s come to realize that Adam was too young and unprepared to take on such an emotional burden (337). This insightfulness and Rank’s overall kind tone that’s described above reveals how Rank’s changed drastically from the hostile bully that first emailed Adam. Rank’s now able to consider how his actions affect others and is in a state of acceptance that there may be another side to what he’s always considered his story.
Coady, Lynn. The Antagonist. House of Anansi Press Inc., 2012.