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). For the album by Auryn, see Anti-Heroes (album). For the album by Lee Konitz and Gil Evans, see Anti-Heroes (Lee Konitz and Gil Evans album).
Revisionist Western films commonly have an antihero as the lead character who is morally ambiguous. Clint Eastwood, pictured here in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), portrayed the Man with No Name, an archetypical antihero, in the Spaghetti Western Dollars Trilogy.

An antihero, or antiheroine, is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality.[1][2][3][4][5] These individuals often possess dark personality traits such as disagreeableness, dishonesty, and aggressiveness. These characters are usually considered "conspicuously contrary to an archetypal hero".[6]


The antihero archetype can be traced back at least as far as Homer's Thersites.[7]:197–198 The concept has also been identified in classical Greek drama,[8] Roman satire, and Renaissance literature[7]:197–198 such as Don Quixote[8][9] and the picaresque rogue.[10] Although antiheroes may sometimes do the "right thing", it is more because it serves their self-interest rather than being morally correct.[11]

The term antihero was first used as early as 1714,[5] emerging in works such as Rameau's Nephew in the 18th century,[7]:199-200 and is also used more broadly to cover Byronic heroes as well.[12]

Literary Romanticism in the 19th century helped popularize new forms of the antihero,[13][14] such as the Gothic double.[15] The antihero eventually became an established form of social criticism, a phenomenon often associated with the unnamed protagonist in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.[7]:201-207 The antihero emerged as a foil to the traditional hero archetype, a process that Northrop Frye called the fictional "centre of gravity."[16] This movement indicated a literary change in heroic ethos from feudal aristocrat to urban democrat, as was the shift from epic to ironic narratives.[16]

The antihero became prominent in early 20th century existentialist works such as Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915),[17] Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nausée (1938) (French for Nausea),[18] and Albert Camus' L'Étranger (1942) (French for The Stranger).[19] The protagonist in these works is an indecisive central character who drifts through his life and is marked by ennui, angst, and alienation.[20]

The antihero entered American literature in the 1950s and up to the mid-1960s was portrayed as an alienated figure, unable to communicate.[21]:294-295 The American antihero of the 1950s and 1960s (as seen in the works of Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, et al.) was typically more proactive than his French counterpart; with characters such as Kerouac's Dean Moriarty famously taking to the road to vanquish his ennui.[22] The British version of the antihero emerged in the works of the "angry young men" of the 1950s.[8][23] The collective protests of Sixties counterculture saw the solitary antihero gradually eclipsed from fictional prominence,[24] though not without subsequent revivals in literary and cinematic form.[21]:295

The antihero also plays a prominent role in such films noir as Double Indemnity (1944) and Night and the City (1950),[25] in such gangster films as The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990),[26] and in Western films, especially the revisionist Western and Spaghetti Western. Lead figures in these westerns are often morally ambiguous, such as the "Man with No Name", portrayed by Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)."[27]

See also


  1. "American Heritage Dictionary Entry: antihero". 2013-01-09. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  2. "anti-hero - definition of anti-hero by Macmillan Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-10-04.
  3. "Antiheroine - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  4. "anti-hero: definition of anti-hero in Oxford dictionary (British & World English)". Retrieved 2014-09-06.
  5. 1 2 "Antihero - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  6. Jonason, Peter K.; Webster, Gregory D.; Schmitt, David P.; Li, Norman P.; Crysel, Laura. "The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits.". Review of General Psychology. 16 (2): 192–199. doi:10.1037/a0027914.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Steiner, George (2013). Tolstoy Or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism. New York: Open Road. ISBN 9781480411913.
  8. 1 2 3 "antihero (literature) - Encyclopedia Britannica". 2013-02-14. Retrieved 2014-08-09.
  9. "Literary Terms and Definitions A". Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  10. Halliwell, Martin (2007). American Culture in the 1950s (Transferred to Digital Print 2012 ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780748618859.
  11. Laham, Nicholas (2009). Currents of Comedy on the American Screen: How Film and Television Deliver Different Laughs for Changing Times. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. p. 51. ISBN 9780786442645.
  12. "Literary Terms and Definitions B". Retrieved 2014-09-06.
  13. Alsen, Eberhard (2014). The New Romanticism: A Collection of Critical Essays. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 72. ISBN 9781317776000. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  14. Simmons, David (2008). The Anti-Hero in the American Novel: From Joseph Heller to Kurt Vonnegut (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 5. ISBN 9780230612525. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  15. Lutz, Deborah (2006). The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-century Seduction Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780814210345. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  16. 1 2 Frye, Northrop (2002). Anatomy of Criticism. London: Penguin. p. 34. ISBN 9780141187099.
  17. Barnhart, Joe E. (2005). Dostoevsky's Polyphonic Talent. Lanham: University Press of America. p. 151. ISBN 9780761830979.
  18. Asong, Linus T. (2012). Psychological Constructs and the Craft of African Fiction of Yesteryears: Six Studies. Mankon: Langaa Research & Publishing CIG. p. 76. ISBN 9789956727667.
  19. Gargett, Graham (2004). Heroism and Passion in Literature: Studies in Honour of Moya Longstaffe. Amsterdam [u.a.]: Rodopi. p. 198. ISBN 9789042016927.
  20. Brereton, Geoffery (1968). A Short History of French Literature. Penguin Books. pp. 254–255.
  21. 1 2 Hardt, Michael; Weeks, Kathi (2000). The Jameson Reader (Repr. ed.). Oxford, UK ; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell. ISBN 9780631202707.
  22. Edelstein, Alan (1996). Everybody is Sitting on the Curb: How and why America's Heroes Disappeared. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 18. ISBN 9780275953645.
  23. Ousby, Ian (1996). The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Literature in English. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780521436274.
  24. Edelstein, Alan (1996). Everybody is Sitting on the Curb: How and why America's Heroes Disappeared. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 1. ISBN 9780275953645.
  25. "A Guide To Film Noir: The Anti Hero". Retrieved 2016-09-11.
  26. "Classic Ten – Greatest Anti-Heroes". Retrieved 2016-09-11.
  27. "The Man With No Name". Retrieved 2016-09-11.

Further reading

External links

Look up antihero in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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