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Types of Heroes in Literature

Most works of literature have a protagonist and an antagonist. While the protagonist is a main character who pursues the primary goals of the plot in the novel or short story, the antagonist is the character who gets in the way. The protagonist has good intentions towards other characters and does great things, while the antagonist is the opposite.

Since all works of literature have a protagonist, it is helpful to know which category or type of character the protagonist belongs in. A protagonist's traits and attitude towards human nature help readers to understand them, connect with them to their own real life, or follow their actions and understand why they do what they do.

Certain protagonists are considered to have universal qualities and these qualities are called archetypes. Archetypes have similar characteristics throughout literature and make unpredictable characters easier to understand. One archetype is the hero - defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. However, there is more than one hero archetype. The most notable appear to the left.

The Classical Hero

Classical heroes, sometimes known as romantic heroes, are everyday people that have a great talent! Classic heroes often possess an attribute or quality that distinguishes them from ordinary people, making them a hero. It's important to remember that classical hero is equal in their world, but the classical hero possesses a gift that others do not have.

Examples of classical heroes would be Harry Potter, Ponyboy, or Victor Frankenstein.

The Everyday Hero

In literature, the term everyday has come to mean an ordinary individual that the audience or reader easily identifies with. Also, the everyday hero (sometimes known as the "everyman hero") has no outstanding abilities or attributes. An everyday hero is thrown into extraordinary circumstances where they must act with heroic qualities. Moreover, they have sound moral judgment and show selflessness in the face of adversity.

Many protagonists in realistic fiction are considered to be an everyday or everyman hero.

The Superhero

Superheroes can start out as classical heroes or even everyday heroes and be given a power that makes them 'superhuman'. They can also be born with a ‘superhuman’ power.

Famous examples of the superhero archetypes would be Superman, Thor, or Wolverine.

The Tragic Hero

It was the great philosopher Aristotle who first defined the ill-fated protagonist as a tragic hero, or flawed hero. Aristotle suggested that a hero of a tragedy must evoke a sense of pity or fear from the audience. Also, the tragic hero has to be someone whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or fate. To this day, literature is inundated with the use of this type of protagonist.

Aristotle’s Principles of a Tragic Hero
Hamartia Flaw that causes the downfall
Hubris Extreme pride
Peripeteia Reversal of fortune
Anagnorisis When the hero makes a critical discovery
Nemesis Fate that cannot be reversed
Catharsis Tone (pity or fear) that the audience is left with after the hero's fall

Shakespeare was famous for using this archetype in his plays: notable tragic heroes include Romeo, Macbeth, and Brutus!

The Epic Hero

As with the tragic hero, the Greeks were first to define the protagonist known as an epic hero. These are heroes of a tragedy who evoke in the audience a sense of heroism and legendary awe-inspiring lore, often in an epic poem. An epic hero is someone whose fortune is brought about by their admired characteristics. Many of the famous Greek Epics, such as The Odyssey and the Illiad, contain these larger than life heroes and deeds:

The 7 Characteristic Principles of an Epic Hero
Noble Birth An epic hero is usually a king, prince, demi-god, or nobleman.
Superhuman Strength/Courage The warrior has the potential for greatness based on their attributes, for example: cunning, brave, humble, sagacious, and virtuous.
Vast Traveler An epic hero is known for making travels to exotic locations by choice or chance, usually to battle against evil in a hero’s journey adventure.
Unmatched Warrior Skill This hero typically has a reputation for being a great warrior. Epic heroes commonly have a status that precedes them prior to the beginning of the story.
Cultural Legend Before an epic hero can be universally accepted, they must first be a legend in their culture.
Humility This hero's greatest attribute is his humbleness. Despite the fact that he may be the best of the best, he never brags, boasts, or becomes ostentatious about his abilities.
Battles Supernatural Foes The Nemesis of this hero is usually a supernatural being, for example: Grendel, Poseidon, or a cyclops.

Odysseus, Lancelot, and Beowulf are all epic hero examples.

The Anti Hero

Anti Heroes begin with traits that are very uncommon or unbecoming of those of regular heroes in stories. Anti Heroes display qualities that are more in-line with a villain's characteristics rather than the admirable qualities of the common hero character. With traits such as conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty, anti heroes are not viewed with admiration. Like many of the other heroes, an anti hero starts out as an average person who is controversially flawed and inherently good at the same time, sometimes making them an unwilling hero. An anti hero, by definition, is a main character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. The anti hero can range from a good person with an unattractive vice to a criminal mastermind who has a heart of gold.

Famous examples of a main character anti hero include Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, and Lady Macbeth.

In conclusion, there are many different types of heroes in literature. These types of literary heroes make our favorite stories exciting, engaging, and keep us wanting to read more! We readers may not necessarily have a soft spot for every literary hero; they may not have a fatal flaw or a tragic flaw, and despite their best efforts, the unwilling hero may just not be a good person. They may not be a romantic hero or well-loved like King Arthur, but we enjoy their journeys just the same.

How to Make a Literary Hero Poster?

  1. Choose a hero from a novel that you’ve read and make a biography poster about that person.

  2. Read Storyboard That’s article on ”The Hero’s Journey”. Think of a character in a book who has had a hero’s journey. Create a storyboard that depicts this journey using the examples from the article as a guide.

  3. Choose two heroes from either the same story or different stories, and complete a t-chart worksheet comparing and contrasting the two. You could also complete a venn diagram worksheet .

  4. Rewrite a chapter or part of a chapter of your favorite book from the hero’s point of view.

  5. Think about a person in your real life who is a hero in your eyes. Make a storyboard that depicts all of that person’s qualities and explains why you think they are a hero.

  6. Make up your own superhero. Create a spider map that includes your hero’s powers and special qualities. As an additional challenge, make up a sidekick and a villain to go along with your superhero!

  7. Make a storyboard that depicts all of the different types of heroes, using actual examples from literature. Teachers can decide how much, or how little writing should be included.

  8. Make a poster listing out the types of heroes to hang in the classroom. Don’t forget to use one of our colorful poster templates to get you started! Pro tip: you can add images on your posters to show examples of heroes from real literature!

  9. Choose an antihero from a literary text that you have read. Think about how this person could be different if they were a classic hero or an everyday hero instead of an antihero. What would this character be like if they went from “bad to good”? Create a t-chart using the t-chart layout in the storyboard creator showing how this character would change.

  10. For Groups: Choose a scene from a book that you have read in class to reenact to the class, making sure that it includes the hero and other characters; if you can think of a scene with the antihero in it, even better! Use the traditional storyboard layout to plan out your scenes. You can add text to your storyboards, or simply use the cells to visualize each scene of your play.

  11. Write interview questions that you would ask to a hero from a book or other piece of literature that you have read. Pretend that you interviewed this character. What would their answers be?

  12. Write some journal entries as your favorite literary hero. Be sure they include events from the hero’s actual journey, and other characters that were important to that hero’s life.

How to Teach Students About the Types of Heroes


Introduce the Concept of Heroes

Start by discussing what a hero is and why heroes are important in our society. Ask students to think of examples of heroes they know or have heard about.


Discuss the Different Types of Heroes

There are many different types of heroes, including superheroes, historical heroes, everyday heroes, classical heroes, epic heroes, cultural heroes, literary heroes, and even anti-heroes.


Use Examples

Provide examples of each hero type to help students understand the differences between them. You can use books, movies, or real-life examples to illustrate each hero type.


Discuss the Characteristics of Each Type of Hero

Ask students to think about the characteristics that define each hero type. For example, superheroes are often characterized by their superhuman abilities and their willingness to fight for justice, while everyday, or everyman heroes are characterized by their bravery and selflessness.


Encourage Creativity

Finally, encourage students to create their own heroes. Ask them to think about what type of hero they want to create and what characteristics their hero will have. They can draw their hero, write a story about their hero, or create a comic using Storyboard That’s comic creator!

Related Activities

Frequently Asked Questions about Types of Heroes in Literature

What is an archetypal hero?

The archetypal hero definition is as follows: the character in the story who is the less obvious hero. While the classic hero is known for their heroic deeds, the hero archetype characteristics are subtle and often overlooked. They often come from a humble upbringing, yet possess extraordinary characteristics that set them apart. They may often even be a reluctant hero, while the classic is a willing hero.

Who are some hero archetypes in literature?

Some well known hero archetypes in literature include: Harry Potter, Beowulf, and Katniss in The Hunger Games.

What makes a hero in literature?

Not all heroes are created equal. They could be an ordinary person with superhuman abilities or supernatural powers, or they could be an antihero with excessive pride and without a moral code or strong moral compass. They could be a reluctant hero/unwilling hero or a willing hero. The basic types of heroes are those who possess positive qualities and must overcome obstacles throughout the story.

What are the types of heroes?

The most popular hero types are: the classical hero, the everyday hero (sometimes known as everyman heroes), the superhero, the tragic hero, the epic hero, and the antihero. Which hero type is your favorite?

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