Who is Antihero? Meaning with Examples Important literary terms

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Meaning of antihero:

An antihero is a central character in a modern novel or play whose characteristics and actions deviate significantly from those of the traditional protagonist or hero found in serious literary works. Unlike the heroic figures who typically possess qualities such as greatness, dignity, power, or heroism, the antihero is portrayed as petty, ignominious, passive, clownish, or even dishonest.

Bad super hero man in red mask holding bottle with wine or whiskey in studio. Handsome man with raised wrist isolated on black background in studio.

The concept of nonheroic protagonists can be traced back as early as the sixteenth century in the picaresque novel, where the main character is often a rogue or a scoundrel. For example, Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) features a protagonist who is a thief and a prostitute. However, the term “antihero” is commonly used to describe characters in literature written during the period of disillusionment after World War II.

In this post-war period, authors began featuring protagonists who were far from heroic, often embodying negative or flawed qualities. John Wain’s Hurry on Down (1953) and Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954) are notable early examples of this trend. Subsequently, notable instances of the antihero can be found in novels like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) with the character Yossarian, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) with Humbert Humbert, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) with Tyrone Slothrop.

The use of the antihero is particularly prominent in dramatic tragedies, where the traditional protagonist was typically of high social status, possessed dignity, and displayed courage. In Samuel Beckett‘s dramas, the antihero serves as a representation of a world devoid of certainties, values, or even meaning. For example, the tramps Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot (1952) or the blind and paralyzed old man Hamm in Endgame (1958) are extreme instances of antiheroic characters.

Overall, the antihero challenges conventional notions of heroism and offers a more complex and often darker portrayal of the human condition. By diverging from the traditional heroic archetype, the antihero exposes the flaws and contradictions within society, creating thought-provoking narratives that reflect the disillusionment and uncertainty of the modern era.

Other sources: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/antihero

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