Conflict: the agon
If, with its immense rhetorical resources, narrative is an instrument of power, it is often about power as well. This is because, in almost every narrative of any interest, there is a conflict in which power is at stake. You might say that conflict structures narrative. The ancient Greek word for conflict (actually “contest” is closer) is agon, and how the agon played out formed the spine of any Greek tragedy. The presence on stage of a chorus reinforced awareness of the agon as the chorus debated with itself during the course of the play, one side of the chorus pitted against the other (Woody Allen richly satirized the role of the chorus in his Mighty Aphrodite ). Characters in the narrative of Greek tragedy were assigned roles in the agon. Thus, there was a “protagonist” (hero) and an “antagonist” (the hero's chief opponent). Conflict in narrative, of course, does not necessarily take the form of a clear opposition of good guys and bad guys (though this is one defining feature of melodrama). And in many narratives, there is more than one conflict at play.
The agon, or conflict, has been so central a feature of narrative throughout its recorded history that it is reasonable to assume that it serves important cultural purposes. One very plausible possibility is that the representation of conflict in narrative provides a way for a culture to talk to itself about, and possibly resolve, conflicts that threaten to fracture it (or at least make living difficult).