Every individual is the protagonist of their own story, implying that not all main characters conform to the traditional hero archetype. While heroes are typically virtuous individuals who strive to improve themselves or society despite challenges and opposition, the antihero possesses traits that often deviate from societal norms, making them intriguing subjects. Their complexity, a blend of admirable and questionable traits, is what draws us in.

It’s important to note that despite possessing unconventional traits, an antihero is not necessarily a villain or antagonist. If the narrative focuses on them, they can still be the central characters, even if their actions or characteristics are not universally accepted.   These characters are “a specialized kind of Hero, one who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whom the audience is basically in sympathy” (Vogler 41). Their relatability, their struggle with societal norms, is what makes them so compelling.

We see antiheroes in movies and TV, with characters like Walter White on Breaking Bad to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.  They are characters on the other side of the law, often doing what they feel is best for them and the world they inhabit.  At the same time, their justifications for their actions often sway the audience to feel some level of compassion for them, even if what they’re doing or plan to do is dangerous, deadly, or illegal.

This is one reason why these types of main“character [are] widely discrepant from that which we associate with the traditional protagonist or hero” (Abrams 11).  The antihero has a different type of moral compass and set of values than a typical hero.  While we may see main characters like Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, as a model of heroism, honesty, and likability, an antihero can be “petty, ignominious, passive, ineffectual, or dishonest” and still capture our attention and interest (Abrams 11). Their presence in storytelling challenges our perceptions and broadens our understanding of character dynamics.

In his book, The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler states that:

“Anti-Heroes may be of two types: 1) characters who behave much like conventional Heroes, but are given a strong touch of cynicism or have a wounded quality […] 2) tragic Heroes, central figures of a story who may not be likeable or admirable, whose actions we may even deplore” (Vogler 41).  

What characters in your favorite movies, TV shows, or books would fit the description of an antihero?  How does their role as an antihero impact how they are perceived in the story or by an audience?

Who in the real world could be seen as an antihero?  Do the characteristics of an antihero work as well in the real world as they do in a fictional universe?

Main Character May continues tomorrow!  See you then!


Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms.  Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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