- An anti-hero is a hero that has some of the characteristics and personality traits of a villain, but ultimately gives in to the goals and desires of a hero. The anti-hero has roots in literature and mythology dating back thousands of years ago, especially in the mythology of ancient Greece. Many anti-heroes have disturbing backgrounds that have resulted in their present state of being and go through mental and spiritual conflicts within themselves, which have an impact on the decisions that they make. However, this also gives them plenty of room to grow both mentally and spiritually. Sometimes their motive for doing something right can be just for the sake of doing what is right. But their motive can also be getting something in return. This anti-hero does the right thing in order to get some sort of profit. They treat it as a business transaction. Some do the right thing simply for revenge. They are also portrayed as vigilantes or criminals in the eyes of the established law.
EXAMPLES OF ANTI-HEROES
- Wolverine is a mutant who has the power to heal rapidly. Upon discovery of this gift by an outside party, he was forced to undergo a surgical process in which indestructible metal was grafted throughout his entire body. Part of this metal comes out of his fists in the form of claws whenever he gets angry. This violent past of his has given him feelings of revenge, fury, and constant gruffness. Many times he has an uncontrollable animal rage to kill his enemies. However, he does not enjoy it, which serves as another form of attack on him mentally and morally. However, despite these flaws, he still has a strong understanding of acting honorably and doing the right thing. The character of Wolverine was created in the United States in the 1970’s, during which the popularity of anti-heroes was climbing.
- Conan is a barbarian of ancient times, living in a world of fantasy elements such as elaborate monsters, kingdoms, and magical beings. He is portrayed as a character whose only desire for doing the right thing comes from an equal desire to get something out of it for himself. Personal gain is his driving force.
- Gollum is a character who has been negatively affected by the ring of power, the ring that the primary protagonist, Frodo Baggins, must destroy in order to save his country. Its evil power has turned him into a twisted, tortured soul who is split into two personalities. The first one is a reflection of his original self, Smeagol, who is familiar with feelings of loyalty and compassion. The second one would make him go as far as to kill anyone who has the ring of power in order to get it back, because the power of the ring creates a bloodthirsty desire to have it. In the end, the second personality takes over, and it leads to Gollum’s death.
4. Severus Snape from Harry Potter
- Severus Snape is one of Harry Potter’s school teachers who never seems to quite like Harry. Harry is always under the impression that he is out to get him in any way that he can. It is revealed through books three through seven of the series that Snape was childhood friends with Harry’s mother, Lily, and that the reason why Snape had some bitterness towards Harry was because he felt that Harry’s father, James, had come in between his feelings for her. There was even question as to whether or not he worked for the dark lord Voldemort. However, in the end, Snape turns out to be on Harry’s side and even protects him at times.
- The character of Batman starts at his childhood. When he was only a boy, his mother and father were killed right in front of him by a criminal. When he grew up, he developed two sides. The first one was as his commonly known self: Bruce Wayne, a playboy worth millions and successful businessman. The other side was as Batman, who fought criminals in the middle of the night in the streets of Gotham City. He is considered a vigilante by the police because he does not work by their rules, and a part of him remains tortured by his parents death. It gave him an edge that borderlines a hate-filled villain.
THE ANTI-HERO AND
THE YOUNG ADULT INFLUENCE
When I started thinking about what topic I wanted to choose for my unit of study, I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of role models. But of course, that topic was too vague, so I started trimming the fat to come up with a more specific idea. I finally came up with the idea of the anti-hero. The history of the anti-hero in American culture and its influence on young adults through young adult literature has become a very intriguing topic throughout the last few decades. And its influence has been prevalent in forms of media other than young adult literature. The anti-hero has also been popular in comic books and action films, many of which are geared towards young adults as well.
There are two reasons for why I chose to study this topic. First of all, as I have already mentioned, the anti-hero has strong connections with social and political events that have taken place in American culture. American culture having an impact on the media and various forms of entertainment has always fascinated me.
The second reason, however, is the more important one. I wanted to choose a topic that I was always able to relate to when I was a young adult. This is where the idea of role models comes into play. When I was a teenager, I was never able to relate to the kinds of heroes that were completely pure of heart. Heroes like Superman, for example. They always know what the right thing to do is. And it is almost always easy for them to do it. I could not relate to this because, as a young adult, it was not often easy to know what the right thing to do was. I went through too many bad experiences to get a pure concept of right versus wrong. And this is true of many other young adults. They go through things like peer pressure, experimentation with drugs, sexual feelings, and discovering who they are as people in general. These experiences have the power to distort right versus wrong in the minds of young adults.
I was able to relate better to heroes who had flaws and who had a more difficult time making the right choices. When I looked at heroes like these, I said to myself, “There’s a guy that’s similar to me.” Other young adults see the same thing today when they look at these heroes. They see an anti-hero. When young adults see an anti-hero, they see what they could be. They look at the fact that their favorite anti-hero character, while flawed, is able to achieve glory and greatness for themselves and for others around them. This gives them hope for themselves, in the idea that even though they have flaws, they can achieve greatness for themselves. The hero that is pure of heart, on the other hand, puts out the message that only those who are perfect can achieve greatness.
The truth is this: heroes that are pure of heart make for great storytelling, but they just don’t exist. Humans are flawed by nature. It is a trait that we will never be free from. So if a time ever comes for the human race in which the planet is covered with superheroes, they will all be anti-heroes, because we are all imperfect and flawed to a certain level.
THE AMERICAN ANTI-HERO
The history of the anti-hero in the United States of America has a direct connection with social and political events that took place in the 1960’s and 1970’s. During these two decades, the civil rights movement was taking place. On top of this, the younger generations of America were beginningj to oppose the established ways of the older generations. The rules and norms of society set up by the older generation were being questioned by the young. Rock and roll music and experimentation with drugs and sex started to spread through the United States. It was during this time period that many anti-hero characters were created.
For example, the comic book X-Men was created by Stan Lee in the year 1963. The comic book centered around mutants (many of them in their teens and twenties) who were being threatened by non-mutants because of their differences. These mutant heroes, while good, developed flaws in the process of their adventures. Stan Lee created X-Men as a fictional representation of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, in which African Americans, young and old, were fighting for their rights as American citizens.
Also, the character played by Clint Eastwood in many western films, known as, “The Man With No Name,” was created in the 1960’s. This anti-hero fights for good, but creates his own rules as to how to fight for it. He goes against the established law enforcers and their methods of fighting crime. Clint Eastwood played this type of anti-hero again in 1971 in the film Dirty Harry, in which he played a San Francisco cop who defied his superiors and set his own rules in order to catch a crazed gunman. These characters were representative of the younger generation challenging the established ways of the older generations.
ANTI-HEROES OVER THE
LAST 50 YEARS
The Man With No Name (A Fistful of Dollars)
The Stranger (High Plains Drifter)
Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Batman)
Conan (Conan the Barbarian)
Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)
Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Bonnie and Clyde)
Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye)
Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
Alex (A Clockwork Orange)
Michael Corleone (The Godfather)
Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)
Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars)
Edmund Pevensie (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)
John McClane (Die Hard)
Albert Simmons (Spawn)
Kyle Reese (The Terminator)
The T-101 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day)
Roland the Gunslinger (The Dark Tower Series)
Bill Denbrough (It)
Edward Cullen (Twilight)
Jack O’Neil (Stargate)
Randle McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
10. Nilsen, Alleen Pace. “Fantasy, Science Fiction, Utopias, and Dystopias.” Literature for Today’s Young Adults. Ed. Kenneth L. Donelson. Boston: Pearson, 2001. 215-242