Lady and the Tramp runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the protagonist needs to change over the course of a story. In this film the protagonist is clearly Lady. The story follows Lady throughout the film. She is clearly the protagonist. Usually as such she would be expected to change and grow over the course of the story. But that’s just one way to tell a story. There’s also the reverse were the hero is challenged with temptation and threat to compromise their beliefs. But they remain steadfast, and in the end they change others by their conviction. Lady and the Tramp is this type of story.
Lady believes in being part of a home and family. Early in the film she’s very proud when she receives her license, showing it off to the neighbor dogs. This scene is an efficient setup, establishing the beliefs of Lady and also introducing the characters of Jock and Trusty. When her belief is first tested by the reduced attention caused by Darling’s pregnancy she is presented with two conflicting philosophies. Her friends reinforce her belief in loyalty to home, as they explain what a baby is and how nice they can be. Their point of view is rebutted by the Tramp who shows up and tells her “when a baby moves in, the dog moves out.”
Ultimately, her faith in home is reaffirmed when the baby finally arrives and Jim Dear helps her get a look at the baby. She’s still part of the family; it’s just a bit larger now. But soon after she is challenged again as Aunt Sarah arrives to take care of the baby while Jim Dear and Darling go on vacation. Aunt Sarah doesn’t want Lady anywhere near the baby, and after being framed by a pair of Siamese cats Aunt Sarah takes Lady out to get a muzzle. Lady panics and runs out, getting lost. She’s found by Tramp who begins to show her how he lives without a home. He argues that when he lives without a home, he gets only the best by visiting a different home every night. Lady isn’t immediately swayed by this argument, but neither is she clamoring to return home immediately.
Tramps lack of commitment with a home is repeated in his attitude toward dating many women. Also, despite the time they spend together, he is still reckless with her safety, and endangers Lady by insisting they chase chickens around for fun, only to end up getting shot at and Lady captured and taken to the pound. While the evening before showed the benefits of living untethered, this next day presents the pitfalls. It also has Lady realizing that she’s not the only dog in Tramp’s life, and he has a reputation as a ladies man. Not only is some of the worst of this lifestyle on display in the pound, but it also reinforces her connection to home as it is her license that saves her from it. The dogs at the pound say they would give their left leg for one to get out of there.
When the Tramp visits Lady to apologize she makes it clear she’s not interested in his lifestyle or him anymore. That the Tramp tries to apologize at all is significant. It’s unlikely he’s done that in past relationships instead of simply moving to the next girl. He leaves, but returns when he hears Lady barking at a rat. Chained to the doghouse, Lady is unable to stop the rat from entering the house, so it’s up to the Tramp hunt down the rat. Tramp manages to kill the rat, but Aunt Sarah, not realizing the rat was there, thinks Tramp’s just been wrecking up the place and barricades him in a closet before calling the pound.
This moment was predicted earlier in the pound. Where the other dogs postulate that when the Tramp does fall in love, he’ll get careless and dog catchers will finally capture him. This indicates that the Tramp is indeed in love with Lady and he has changed. Things happen very quickly now as Jock and Trusty realize what happened along with Jim Dear and Darling, who had just arrived back home. Trusty and Jock are able to stop the pound carriage and save the days, though Trusty does end up breaking his leg. In the final scene we see that Tramp is now part of the family, with his own collar and license. He has changed and followed Lady’s example because of his newfound love for her.
Stories with a steadfast protagonist are less common, but it is a useful form of storytelling. Seeing a character withstand an assault on their values and remain steadfast can be just as inspiring as seeing one swayed by those values. Lady and the Tramp could’ve been flipped around so that Tramp was the protagonist. But, they chose to focus on Lady. Neither way is necessarily correct, but each provides its own benefits and pitfalls. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to approach a story.