This article is about the character type. For the 1999 action film, see Anti-hero (film). For the punk band, see Anti-Heros. For the Marlon Roudette song, see Anti Hero (Brave New World).

The antihero[1] or antiheroine[2] is a leading character in a film, book or play who lacks some or all of the traditional heroic qualities,[3][4] such as altruism, idealism,[5] courage,[5] nobility,[6] fortitude,[7] and moral goodness.[8]

Whereas the classical hero is larger than life, antiheroes are typically inferior to the reader in intelligence, dynamism or social purpose[9] - giving rise to what Robbe-Grillet called “these heroes without naturalness as without identity”.[10]

The term is also sometimes used more broadly to cover the flawed or part-villanous hero, in the literary tradition of the Byronic hero.[11][12][13]



The anti-heroic type can be traced back at least as far as Homer's Thersites;[14] and has also been identified in classical Greek drama, as well as in Roman satire and Renaissance literature,[15] as with Don Quixote[16] or the picaresque rogue.[17]

However such figures mainly served as foils to the hero, or the heroic genre, and it was only gradually that the antihero came to the fore in their own right, following the process whereby what Northrop Frye calls the fictional "center of gravity" slowly descended from feudal aristocrat to urban democrat, and literature shifted accordingly from the epic to the ironic.[9]

The actual term antihero is first dated to 1714;[1] and the later eighteenth century saw a fine example of the type in Rameau's Nephew,[18] though here the protagonist still remains placed in dialogue with a normative representative of the authorial position.

Nineteenth century Romanticism, with its social critique, saw the antihero becoming still more prominent, often in the form of the Gothic double, until the main character of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground brought the figure into full and independent flower.[19]


Building on Dostoevsky, the first half of the twentieth century saw the heyday of the antihero, first in figures like Kafka's K, and then in the writings of the French existentialists,[20] as in Camus's L'Étranger (1942) or Sartre's La Nausée (1938) with their rootless, indecisive central characters drifting through their own lives.[21]

A decade or so later, the antihero reached American literature, to dominate till the mid-Sixties as a lonely alienated figure, unable to communicate[22] - if typically more pro-active than his French counterpart - within the works of Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer and many more.[23] The British equivalent appeared in the works of the so-called Angry young men of the fifties.[24]

The collective protests of Sixties counterculture saw the solitary antihero gradually eclipsed from fictional prominence,[25] though not without subsequent revivals in literary or cinematic form.[26]

Sporting antiheroes

The sporting antihero is typically not a team player; challenges officialdom; sets financial gain over club loyalty; yet still acquires a large fan following,[27] by way of his or her actualisation of the rebel archetype.[28]

See also


Further reading

External links

Antihero (literature) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Character Analysis

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