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Encyclopedia > Anti hero

In literature and film, an anti-hero is a central or supporting character that has some of the personality flaws and ultimate fortune traditionally assigned to villains but nonetheless also have enough heroic qualities or intentions to gain the sympathy of readers or viewers. Anti_heroes can be awkward, obnoxious, passive, pitiful, or obtuse—but they are always, in some fundamental way, flawed or failed heroes. In this use, the term tragic hero is sometimes used. Comic books also feature anti_heroes, also known as "dark heroes", who are characters fighting for the side of good, but either with some tragic flaw (such as a tormented past) or by using questionable means to reach their goals. A good working definition of Anti_hero is a paradoxical character who is, within the context of a story, a hero but in another context could as easily be seen as a villain or simply as unlikable.

The concept of the anti-hero has grown from a tendency of modern authors to present villains as complex, even sympathetic, characters whose motivations are not inherently evil and sometimes even good. The line, therefore, between an anti-hero and a villain is sometimes not clear.


One type of anti-hero feels helpless, distrusts conventional values and is often unable to commit to any ideals, but they accept and often relish their status as outsiders. The cyberpunk genre makes extensive use of this character-type.

Another type of anti-hero is a character who constantly moves from one disappointment in their lives to the next, without end, with only occasional and fleeting successes. But they persist and even attain a form of heroic success by steadfastly never giving up or changing their goals. These characters often keep a deep-seated optimism that one day, they will succeed. But in the end they still meet the ultimate fate of a traditional villain, failure. A popular example of this is the director Ed Wood, from Tim Burton's famed film of the same name.

An example of this secondary type of anti-hero is F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. Gatsby's one true aim was to gain the love of a woman beyond his social status, Daisy. He, through what Fitzgerald alludes to be illicit means, amasses a fortune in order to make himself acceptable to the married Daisy. He does, for a time, have an affair with her but in the end his character flaws and illusions that he could turn back time destroy him. But through the whole experience, even after Daisy's husband puts an end to her illicit affair, Gatsby still had hope that he would one day prevail.

A third type of anti-hero is an individual with the same end goals as a traditional hero, but for whom "the ends justify the means". This character type is popular in comic books: for example by day Matt Murdock seeks to bring evil-doers to justice as a lawyer. But when the judicial system fails, he dons a mask and instead exacts revenge as Daredevil.

There is also a type of anti-hero who starts the story with a few unlikeable traits such as prejudices, self centeredness, immaturity, cockiness, or a single minded focus on things such as wealth, status, or revenge. Thus, the hero may actually begin the story as a not so likeable character. However, through the course of events, as we get to know the character, they grow and change and may actually become popular. A well known example of this is Han Solo of the Star Wars trilogy. The actor Clint Eastwood became famous by playing the anti_hero in movies such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.

See also: List of anti-heroes, tragic hero, Byronic hero


  • Nobel e-Museum: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1976 Presentation Speech by Karl Ragnar Gierow (http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1976/presentation-speech.html)
  • Thomson Gale e-research and educational publishing:Glossary A (http://www.galegroup.com/free_resources/glossary/)

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