A growing trend in literature, on screen, and on stage has moved to produce more flawed human protagonists. Gone are the days of perfect role models, paragons of virtue who are brave, capable, and always do the right thing. Instead of these inspirational heroes, many works feature a complementary archetype: the anti hero.
An anti-hero, by definition, is a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Some even display qualities that are almost more in line with villains. Traits like conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty signal that the author does not intend the audience to admire the protagonist.
Anti Hero Examples from Pop Culture and Literature
Prime examples of anti heroes can be seen in popular television shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, or Mad Men. Tony Soprano, for example, is a murderous mob boss you can’t help but watch. His character’s inner conflicts make him relatable and sympathetic, even though he should be detested for his life of organized crime.
Jay Gatsby as an Anti Hero
In literature, Jay Gatsby, from the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous novel, is a young man who grew up in poverty. Although readers see him as influential, mysterious, and wealthy, it is revealed that he achieved this prestige through illegal means: organized crime, distributing alcohol during prohibition, and trading in stolen goods. Gatsby isn’t an admirable person, but his struggle to reclaim the past is compelling and deeply human.
Holden Caufield, the main character and narrator of The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, is another anti hero. He is a perpetual liar. He openly admits to being a coward and being weak. He fails to act so frequently that we begin to feel pity for him. Despite his flaws, he has redeeming qualities, like dignity and a desire to protect his family, Jane, and children everywhere. He has compassion and sees people for who they are and not what they are.
To learn more about other hero types, take a look at our article on "Types of Heroes".
In Your Classroom
With Storyboard That, students can understand character development through a visual storyboard. Students can track changes in character traits through important scenes in a comic strip with illustrations and captions. By using this model, difficult literary terms such as anti hero become easy to comprehend.
Identify the anti hero using a character likeness on a storyboard.
Create storyboards that show and explain the contradiction in the character, using specific quotes from the text to highlight the character’s flawed attributes.
Create storyboards that show the major change or shift in the character.
Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for projects based on available class time and resources.
Relating To The Common Core
ELA Common Core Standards for Grades 9-12
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used
Writing.WS.9-12.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.