What is an Antihero? Definition, Examples of Antiheroes in Literature

Antihero definition: An antihero can be defined as a protagonist, main character, in a literary work that does not exhibit traditional heroic qualities.

What is an Antihero?

An antihero is a main character in a literary work that does not exhibit traditional heroic qualities such as bravery or honest, but instead, can be described as ordinary or even display such unappealing qualities such as dishonesty.

Example of Antihero

In Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, the main character, Alex, can be defined as an anti-hero. Alex is a sociopath who finds pleasure in harming and terrorizing other people. While he commits these crimes, the audience still identifies with him because of how his government treats him. He is inhumanely treated by the government when they torture him in attempt to take away his human ability to choose; however, he continues to fight against government control and for his right to be able to have a choice regarding his actions.

What is the Difference Between Antihero and Antagonist?

While both an antihero and antagonist can display unappealing qualities, these two are not one in the same. The antagonist is the character in which the protagonist is pitted against in the literary work.

Antihero vs. Antagonist

In the Disney movie, The Emperor’s New Groove, the main character, Kuzco, can be seen as an antihero because he displays such qualities as greed. In this movie, the antagonist would be Kuzco’s evil advisor Yzma who is attempting to kill him in order to rule his kingdom.

The Function of an Antihero

The use of an antihero as the protagonist in a literary work can serve several important purposes. By including a main character with flaws, it creates a more realistic main character. It also allows for the character to exhibit growth if he or she overcomes these flaws.

For example,

To continue with Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove, by having him display such characteristics as greed and selfishness, it allows for him to learn the errors of his ways and become a better person. This is often important in children’s movies where moral lessons are taught to the audience.

Examples of Antiheroes in Literature

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby can be described as an antihero. He displays such unappealing characteristics such as dishonesty and greed. However, he still appeals to the audience through his big dreams and desire for love. He is representative of the imperfect nature of human beings.

Another example of an antihero is Ignatius Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. In this novel, Reilly demonstrates qualities such as selfishness and laziness that align with an antihero. However, despite his negative qualities, he still appeals to the audience through his values of such causes as education and morality.

Summary: What Are Antiheroes?

Define antihero in literature: An antihero is a protagonist that displays qualities that do not align with the traditional hero such as laziness or greed. These characters more accurately depict true human nature because of the flaws given to them.

Final example:

In the popular television series Dexter, the protagonist, Dexter Morgan is an example of an antihero.

Morgan is a serial killer, and his victims are people who have escaped the justice system. He feels as if it is his duty to kill them and bring justice to their victims. Because he is killing people who society considers evil, the audience still roots for him to not be caught even though he is committing murder.