An antihero or antiheroine is a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes such as idealism, courage and morality.[1][2][3][4][5] Although antiheroes may sometimes perform actions that are morally correct, it is not always for the right reasons, often acting primarily out of self-interest or in ways that defy conventional ethical codes.[6]

Clint Eastwood - 1960s
Revisionist Western films commonly feature antiheroes as lead characters whose actions are morally ambiguous. Clint Eastwood, pictured here in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), portrayed the archetypal antihero called the "Man with No Name" in the Spaghetti Western Dollars Trilogy.


Kerouac by Palumbo
U.S. writer Jack Kerouac and other figures of the "Beat Generation" created reflective, critical protagonists who influenced the antiheroes of many later works.

An early antihero is 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]

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.[11]

Literary Romanticism in the 19th century helped popularize new forms of the antihero,[12][13] such as the Gothic double.[14] The antihero eventually became an established form of social criticism, a phenomenon often associated with the unnamed protagonist in Fyodor Dostoyevsky'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 "center of gravity".[15] This movement indicated a literary change in heroic ethos from feudal aristocrat to urban democrat, as was the shift from epic to ironic narratives.[15]

Huckleberry Finn (1884) has been called "the first antihero in the American nursery".[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]:18 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,[22]:1 though not without subsequent revivals in literary and cinematic form.[21]:295

The antihero also plays a prominent role in films noir such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Night and the City (1950),[24] in gangster films such as The Godfather (1972),[25] 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).

See also


  1. ^ "antihero". American Heritage Dictionary. 9 January 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  2. ^ "anti-hero". Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Antiheroine". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 31 August 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  4. ^ "anti-hero". Lexico Dictionaries. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Antihero". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 31 August 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  6. ^ Laham, Nicholas (2009). Currents of Comedy on the American Screen: How Film and Television Deliver Different Laughs for Changing Times. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. p. 51. ISBN 9780786442645.
  7. ^ a b c d Steiner, George (2013). Tolstoy Or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism. New York: Open Road. ISBN 9781480411913.
  8. ^ a b c "antihero". Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 February 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  9. ^ Wheeler, L. Lip. "Literary Terms and Definitions A". Dr. Wheeler's Website. Carson-Newman University. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  10. ^ Halliwell, Martin (2007). American Culture in the 1950s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780748618859.
  11. ^ Wheeler, L. Lip. "Literary Terms and Definitions B". Dr. Wheeler's Website. Carson-Newman University. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  12. ^ Alsen, Eberhard (2014). The New Romanticism: A Collection of Critical Essays. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 72. ISBN 9781317776000. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b Frye, Northrop (2002). Anatomy of Criticism. London: Penguin. p. 34. ISBN 9780141187099.
  16. ^ Hearn, Michael Patrick (2001). The Annotated Huckleberry Finn: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade) (1st ed.). New York: Norton. p. xvci. ISBN 0393020398.
  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: Rodopi. p. 198. ISBN 9789042016927.
  20. ^ Brereton, Geoffery (1968). A Short History of French Literature. Penguin Books. pp. 254–255.
  21. ^ a b Hardt, Michael; Weeks, Kathi (2000). The Jameson Reader (Reprint ed.). Oxford, UK ; Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell. ISBN 9780631202707.
  22. ^ a b Edelstein, Alan (1996). Everybody is Sitting on the Curb: How and why America's Heroes Disappeared. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 9780275953645.
  23. ^ Ousby, Ian (1996). The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Literature in English. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780521436274.
  24. ^ Eggert, Brian (30 August 2015). "Night and the City". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  25. ^ Brinton, Sadie (September 2008). "Classic Ten – Greatest Anti-Heroes". AMC. Retrieved 11 September 2016.

Further reading

  • Simmons, David (2008). The Anti-Hero in the American Novel: From Heller to Vonnegut. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0230603238.

External links

Audio Antihero

Audio Antihero is a British independent record label formed in October 2009 and based in South East London. They have been the centerpiece of several radio BBC, PRI and international radio stories.

Benjamin Shaw (musician)

Benjamin Shaw is an English-Canadian musician and artist based in Melbourne, Australia. He has recorded for a number of different labels but is a mainstay of Audio Antihero records.

Beth Dover

Beth Dover (born August 29, 1978) is an American actress best known for her role of Linda Ferguson on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Dover also appears in Comedy Central's Another Period and Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.Regarding her performance as Linda Ferguson in Orange is the New Black, Dover describes her character as a villain or an antihero remarking, "It's really fun to play a person that lives by a different code of ethics than I do."

Gone Forever

Gone Forever is the third full-length studio album by the New Jersey heavy metal quintet God Forbid. Jeff Loomis of Nevermore contributes the solo on track 7, "Soul Engraved". Track 2, "Antihero", was used in a sampler track hidden in Shadows Fall's album The War Within. Three music videos were released from this album for the tracks "Antihero", "Better Days" and the title track. The album entered the Top Independent Albums chart at number 34. The album has a different sound from their previous two albums, featuring strong thrash metal elements that would be included on all their following releases.

Greg Heffley

Gregory "Greg" Heffley is a fictional character and the protagonist of the realistic fiction novel series Diary of a Wimpy Kid created by American cartoonist Jeff Kinney. He serves as the antihero and unreliable narrator of the series.

Jack Hayter

Jack Hayter is a British musician. He is best known as a multi instrumentalist with Hefner but is also an acclaimed folk singer-songwriter in his own right. Hayter also played with alt-country band Spongefinger and folktronica band Dollboy. Hayter is also frequently used as a session pedal steel guitar player in the London alternative scene.

Jeffrey Lewis

Jeffrey Lewis (born November 20, 1975) is an American singer-songwriter and comic book artist.

John Cardiel

John Joseph Cardiel (born December 14, 1973) is a professional skateboarder and snowboarder who has been a core member of the AntiHero Skateboards company since it was founded in 1995.

List of fictional antiheroes

This list is for characters in fictional works who exemplify the qualities of an antihero – a protagonist whose characteristics include the following:

imperfections that separate them from typically heroic characters (selfishness, ignorance, bigotry, etc.);

lack of positive qualities such as "courage, physical prowess, and fortitude", and "generally feel helpless in a world over which they have no control";

qualities considered dark traits, usually belonging to villains, (amorality, greed, violent tendencies, etc.) that may be tempered with more human, identifiable traits that blur the moral lines between the protagonist and antagonist.Each of these examples has been identified by a critic as an antihero, although the classification remains fairly subjective. Some of the entries may be disputed by other sources and some may contradict all established definitions of antihero.

Lynn Michaels

Lynn Michaels is a fictional vigilante, and ally of the Marvel Comics antihero the Punisher. She was created by Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr., and first appeared in The Punisher War Zone Vol. 1, #7 (September 1992).

Man alone

The man alone is a literary stock character. Usually an antihero, he is similar to the Byronic hero. The man alone tends to epitomise existentialism, and, in the words of the academic E. H. McCormick is "the solitary, rootless nonconformist, who in a variety of forms crops up persistently in New Zealand writing".Men alone figure frequently in the literature of newly settled or recently colonised countries such as Australia and especially New Zealand, and the term is likely to have found popularity with the publication of the "Great Kiwi Novel", Man Alone by John Mulgan in 1939 (this novel's title itself originated in a quotation from Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not). The man alone is, by nature, a loner, either by choice or as a result of circumstances beyond his control. This state of separation from society is often literal, in that the man alone will often live physically separate from society as a hermit or working in the wilds of the country. At other times, the state is psychological only; the man alone may live within the presence of others but be emotionally separate or aloof from them.

The sense of physical or psychological separation between the man alone and society often results in the man alone facing interactions with authority which become kafkaesque through mutual misunderstanding.


NEFEW is a multicultural hip hop group currently based in Switzerland. It consists of Polemikk (MC, producer) and PA-Double (DJ, producer). Nefew is an acronym which stands for New Education From Every Word. Q Magazine describes Nefew as one of the most promising hip hop acts from Europe. The duo is represented by independent label On Our Feet Ent. and Puma.

NEFEW's musical style is often compared to artists such as Common, Kanye West, 9th Wonder, Kenn Starr and Talib Kweli. Many of the group's productions contain soulful samples, as well as jazz keys and string arrangements.

Richard Fisk

Richard Fisk is a fictional character, a criminal appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character first appears in The Amazing Spider-Man #83 (April 1970) and was created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. He is the son of the Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) and Vanessa Fisk. Although he was originally a villain, he became an antihero.

Rock (manga)

Rock (known in some series as Rokuro Makube a.k.a. Rock Macbeth or Rock Holmes (ロック・ホーム, Rokku Hōmu)) is a recurrent major character in most of Osamu Tezuka's manga series, and he is an important part of Osamu Tezuka's Star System. As all of Tezuka's main characters he is seen repeatedly in different works but differs as the character with the most various and changing roles from both hero and antihero.

He is 17 years old.

Soliloquy (song)

"Soliloquy" is a 1945 song composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, written for their 1945 musical Carousel, where it was introduced by John Raitt.

The now jobless carousel barker Billy Bigelow, the antihero of the musical, sings this seven-and-a-half minute song just after he has learned he is about to become a father. In it, he happily daydreams over what it would be like to be a father to a boy, but midway through the song, he realizes that it could turn out to be a girl. The song immediately becomes more tender, as he begins to like the idea. At song's end, he considers that a girl needs the very best a father can offer, and decides to get money to provide for her. It is this idea that spurs him on to help his criminal pal Jigger Craigin in committing a robbery, an act which ultimately leads to personal disaster for Billy.

Frank Sinatra had recently become a father when he recorded "Soliloquy" for the first time on May 28, 1946. With the time limitation of about 3:30 on a 10" 78-rpm record his 7:57 long recording was released on Columbia's Masterwork label (the classical division) as two sides of a 12" record.

The song is extremely unusual in that it requires the singer to sing solo (and occasionally speak) for a full seven-and-a-half minutes, in the manner of an operatic aria, without the benefit of an accompanying choral group "taking up the slack", as is usually the case in long musical numbers (e.g. Ol' Man River). The lengthy song Glitter and Be Gay, from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, makes a similar requirement of the soprano performing it.

Suzanne Rhatigan

Suzanne Rhatigan, is an Irish singer and songwriter born in Dublin.

The Lullaby Trust

The Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID) is a British charitable organisation aiming to prevent unexpected deaths in infancy and promote infant health. The Lullaby Trust funds research, supports families whose babies have died suddenly and unexpectedly, disseminates information on infant health, baby care and sudden infant deaths to health professionals and the general public, and works with professionals to improve investigations when a baby dies.

The Punisher (1990 computer game)

The Punisher is a 1990 video game developed by Paragon Software and released by MicroProse, which stars the Marvel Comics antihero, the Punisher.

In the same year, there was also The Punisher game for NES, unrelated to this one and released by LJN.

The infernal names

The Infernal Names is a compiled list of adversarial or antihero figures from mythology intended for use in Satanic ritual. The following names and descriptions are as listed in The Satanic Bible, written by Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey. When calling the names, all of them may be recited, or a given number of those most significant to the respective working may be chosen.

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