Hero Vs Anti Hero Essay
Photo by Esparta Palma
Every Wednesday, two of my good Denver girlfriends and I get together for a girls night with food, beer, and an activity. Last week, our activity of choice was watching Disney’s Hercules on my couch. Clearly Disney took some creative liberties (they’re a family company, after all, and Greek mythology is not all that family-friendly), but it sure is entertaining to see Hercules try to prove himself as a “true hero”. And that got me thinking: wouldn’t it be fun to examine all the sides and angles of heroes and villains?
We’re dipping our toes into the waters with a comparison of heroes and anti-heroes.
How Do You Create a Hero?
The traditional hero fights with honor and will never hit an opponent when he is down. He almost always makes the right decisions, is a friend to all on his side, and is a generally well-rounded character. The hero fights on the side of obvious good, and often (though not always) will be the leader of a ragtag bunch of misfits.
He will always win his fights, and if he doesn’t, you can count on there being a rematch later in the story, which he will win. His intentions are pure and he’s nigh-incorruptible.
Basically, you know a traditional hero when you see one.
How Do You Create an Anti-Hero?
The anti-hero lives in a universe with a more cynical, ambiguous moral code. He will have visible character flaws, and he will doubt himself. They will perform heroic acts, like a traditional hero, but unlike a traditional hero, who has both the physical and moral capabilities to be heroic, the anti-hero usually has neither.
Anti-heroes are often the right-hand man or rival of traditional heroes, or the protagonist in postmodern literature or film, or in deconstructions of the traditional hero.
Once you’ve got a general ideal of the setting and tone of your story, it’s pretty easy to determine whether you’ll be writing a hero or an anti-hero.
Which do you prefer, heroes or anti-heroes?
Take fifteen minutes and write a character description of a hero or an anti-hero. You can put them in conversation with their opposite to enhance their particular type of heroic tendencies, or have them survey their chosen city. Go nuts! Post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
What is an Anti Hero
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 who 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.
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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.
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Two Examples of Holden Caulfield as an Anti Hero
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.
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Articles on Anti Heroes
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 CoreELA 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.