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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.

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

In literature, Jay Gatsby, from 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 Caulfield

Holden Caulfield, 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.

Articles on Anti Heroes

To learn more about other hero types, take a look at our article on "Types of Heroes".

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 become easy to comprehend.

Example Classroom Exercises

  • 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.

Related Activities

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.

Example Rubric for Grades 9-12

Hero vs Antihero Rubric for Grades 9-12
25 Points
21 Points
17 Points
Try Again
13 Points
Character Traits
Character is thoroughly described and accurately portrayed as an antihero using multiple adjectives.
Character description is clear but lacks details and has limited descriptive words.
Character description lacks clarity and/or detail, and may not be completely reflective of an antihero.
Character chosen does not fit the description of an antihero, or character chosen does not have enough information to score.
Influence on Story
Character is shown to have significant influence on respective story and other characters.
Student states why the character is appealing to them, but may need more solid information on why this is so.
Student either does not explain character appeal, or does not provide sufficient details.
Character’s influence is incorrectly explained, or project is not complete enough to score.
Use of Quotes
Multiple quotes have been used, are representative of an antihero, and are organized efficiently.
Quotes were used, but do not produce strong proof that the character is an antihero.
One quote is used, and does not efficiently or acceptably convey the character’s traits.
Incorrect quote was used, or no quote was used.
Maximum effort is displayed, storyboard is exemplary, trivial or no errors are noted
Student shows decent effort in the creation of the storyboard, editing was performed, and few errors are noted.
Student produced a satisfactory story board, but it may lack visual appeal, contain errors, or has missing parts.
Presentation needs improvement, is incomplete, or poor effort was put forth.

How To Foster Empathy For Antiheroes Through Analysis, Challenges, And Growth For Nuanced Perspective And Understanding


Introduce The Concept Of Antiheroes

Begin by introducing the concept of antiheroes to students. Explain that antiheroes are characters who possess both heroic and flawed qualities, often challenging traditional notions of heroism. Provide examples from literature, film, or other media to illustrate the characteristics of antiheroes.


Analyze Motivations And Experiences

Engage students in analyzing the motivations and experiences of antiheroes. Encourage them to delve into the backstory, psychological factors, and external influences that shape these characters. Use guided questions and discussion prompts to facilitate a deeper understanding of their complex nature.


Challenge Stereotypes

Encourage students to challenge stereotypes associated with antiheroes. Discuss how antiheroes often defy conventional expectations, blurring the line between right and wrong. Guide students to recognize that antiheroes can serve as mirrors of society, questioning established norms and prompting critical thinking.


Explore Redemption And Personal Growth

Explore the concepts of redemption and personal growth in relation to antiheroes. Discuss instances where antiheroes undergo transformative journeys or exhibit moments of moral growth. Encourage students to reflect on the factors that contribute to these changes and the potential for personal transformation in their own lives.


Engage In Perspective-Taking Activities

Foster empathy by engaging students in perspective-taking activities.

Encourage them to step into the shoes of the antiheroic characters and view events from their perspectives. This can involve writing reflective narratives, engaging in role-playing exercises, or creating alternative storylines that explore the characters' choices and motivations.


Facilitate Discussions And Reflections

Provide opportunities for students to engage in meaningful discussions and reflections about their understanding of antiheroes. Encourage them to share their insights, challenge each other's perspectives respectfully, and explore the complexities of empathy for morally ambiguous characters. Guide them in drawing connections between the experiences of antiheroes and real-life situations.

Frequently Asked Questions about Defining the Anti Hero

What is an anti-hero?

An anti-hero is a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes and may display qualities that are more in line with villains, such as conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty.

What are some examples of anti-heroes in pop culture?

Anti-heroes have become a staple of popular television shows, with characters like Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Don Draper from Mad Men serving as prime examples.

Who is Jay Gatsby?

Jay Gatsby is a character from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Great Gatsby." He is a young man who grew up in poverty and achieved his wealth and prestige through illegal means, such as organized crime and trading in stolen goods.

Why is Holden Caulfield considered an anti-hero?

Holden Caulfield is the main character and narrator of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." He is considered an anti-hero because he is a perpetual liar, admits to being a coward, and often fails to act. However, he also has redeeming qualities, such as compassion and a desire to protect others.

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