In fiction, an antihero [Spelled as a single word, without hyphen, per [ Merriam-Webster Online] ; [ Unabridged (v 1.1)] , based on the "Random House Unabridged Dictionary", 2006; and [ "The American Heritage" Dictionary of the English Language", Fourth Edition, 2000] ] is a protagonist whose character and goals are antithetical to classical heroism.

The term dates to 1714. ["Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary", Tenth Edition, 1994, p. 51, and [ Merriam-Webster Online] ]


There is no definitive moment when the antihero came into existence as a literary trope. Apollonius of Rhodes' "Argonautica" portrays Jason as a timid, passive, indecisive man that contrasts sharply with other Greek heroes. [cite journal| author=Haggar, Daley| title=Review of "Infinite Jest"| journal=Harvard Advocate| year=1996| volume=Fall 96] The antihero has evolved over time, changing as society's conceptions of the hero changed, from the Elizabethan times of Christopher Marlowe's "Faust" and William Shakespeare's Falstaff, to the darker-themed Victorian literature of the 19th century, such as John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" or Philip Meadows Taylor's "Confessions of a Thug". The Byronic hero also sets a literary precedent for the modern concept of the antihero.

Contemporary literature

In modern times, heroes have enjoyed an increased moral complexity. Mid-20th century playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard showcased anti-heroic protagonists recognizable by their lack of identity and determination. Pulp fiction and noir detective stories of the mid-20th century saw characters such as Sam Spade, who lacked the glorious appeal of previous heroic figures, become popular. Influenced by the pulps, early comic books featured anti-heroic characters such as Batman (whose shadowy nature contrasted with their openly "heroic" peers like Superman) and Sub-Mariner (who would just as soon conquer humanity as try to save it). [ [ Comics Should Be Good! » 365 Reasons to Love Comics #211 ] ] Marvel's most prolific anti-hero is perhaps The Punisher, who is more than willing to kill those who he views as deserving of death. Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns" showcased a wandering vigilante (the "Man with No Name" played by Clint Eastwood) whose gruff demeanor clashed with other heroic characteristics. Fact|date=August 2007

Many modern antiheroes possess, or even encapsulate, the postmodern rejection of traditional values symptomatic of Modernist literature in general, as well as the disillusion felt after World War II and the Nuclear Age. It has been argued that the continuing popularity of the antihero in modern literature and popular culture may be based on the recognition that a person is fraught with human frailties, unlike the archetypes of the white-hatted cowboy and the noble warrior, and is therefore more accessible to readers and viewers. This popularity may also be symptomatic of the rejection by the avant-garde of traditional values after the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s. [cite journal| author=Erickson, Leslie| title=The Search for Self: Everyday Heroes and an Integral Re-Visioning of the Heroic Journey in Postmodern Literature and Popular Culture | journal=Ph.D Dissertation| year=2004| volume=University of Nebraska] In the postmodern era, traditionally defined heroic qualities, akin to the classic "knight in shining armor" type, have given way to the "gritty truth" of life, and authority in general is being questioned. The brooding vigilante or "noble criminal" archetype seen in characters like Batman is slowly becoming part of the popular conception of heroic valor rather than being characteristics that are deemed un-heroic. [cite journal| author=Lawall G,| title=Apollonius' Argonautica. Jason as anti-hero| journal=Yale Classical Studies| year=1966| volume=19| pages= 119–169]

See also

* Antivillain
* Antagonist
* Byronic hero
* Tragic flaw
* List of fictional anti-heroes
* Tragic hero
* Tweener, a similar type of character in professional wrestling
* Vigilante



* [ Nobel e-Museum: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1976 Presentation Speech by Karl Ragnar Gierow]
* [ Thomson Gale e-research and educational publishing:Glossary A]

External links

* [ Anti-heroes (May 15, 2000)]
* [ The Gallery of Anti-heroes and Villains: What is an Anti-Hero?]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • antihero — (n.) also anti hero; 1714, from ANTI (Cf. anti ) + HERO (Cf. hero) …   Etymology dictionary

  • antihero — [an′tī hir΄ō; an′tēhir΄ō, an′tihir΄ō] n. pl. antiheroes the protagonist of a novel, play, etc. who lacks the virtues and estimable traits of a traditional hero antiheroic adj …   English World dictionary

  • antihero — antiheroism, /an tee her oh iz euhm, an tuy /, n. /an tee hear oh, an tuy /, n., pl. antiheroes. a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and …   Universalium

  • antihero — noun Date: 1714 a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities • antiheroic adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • antihero — noun /ˈæn.tɪˌhɪə.ɹəʊ,ˈæn.taiˌhi.ɹoʊ,ˈæn.tiˌhi.ɹoʊ/ A protagonist who proceeds in an unheroic manner, such as by criminal means, via cowardly actions, or for mercenary goals. See Also: antiheroine …   Wiktionary

  • antihero — Synonyms and related words: actor, antagonist, bit, bit part, cast, character, cue, fat part, feeder, heavy, hero, heroine, ingenue, lead, lead role, leading lady, leading man, leading woman, lines, part, person, personage, piece, protagonist,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • antihero — an|ti|her|o [ˈæntıˌhıərəu US ˌhırou] n plural antiheroes a main character in a book, play, or film who is an ordinary or unpleasant person and lacks the qualities that you expect a hero to have …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • antihero — an|ti|hero [ ænti,hırou ] noun count a main CHARACTER (=person) in a story who does not have the qualities that a HERO usually has, such as being brave or morally good …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • antihero — see anti hero …   English dictionary

  • antihero — n. protagonist which does not possess the traditional characteristics of a hero …   English contemporary dictionary

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