An antihero or antiheroine is a leading character in a story who, unlike a traditional hero, acts in an unheroic manner and lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage and morality.
The antihero archetype can be traced back at least as far as Homer's Thersites. The concept has also been identified in classical Greek drama, Roman satire, and Renaissance literature such as Don Quixote and the picaresque rogue.
Literary Romanticism in the 19th century helped popularize the antihero in ways such as the Gothic double. The antihero eventually became an established form of social criticism, a phenomenon often associated with the unnamed protagonist in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.
The antihero emerged as a foil to the traditional hero archetype, a process that Northrop Frye called the fictional "centre of gravity." This movement indicated a literary change in heroic ethos from feudal aristocrat to urban democrat, as was the shift from epic to ironic narratives.
While the classic hero is larger than life, antiheroes may be inferior to the reader in intelligence, dynamism, or social purpose, giving rise to what Robbe-Grillet called “these heroes without naturalness as without identity.”
The antihero became prominent in early 20th century existentialist works such as Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915), Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nausée (1938) (French for: Nausea), and Albert Camus' L'Étranger (1942) (French for: The Stranger). The protagonist in these works is an indecisive central character who drifts through his life and is marked by ennui, angst, and alienation.
The antihero entered American literature in the 1950s and up to the mid-1960s was portrayed as an alienated figure, unable to communicate. The American antihero of the 1950s and 1960s (as seen in the works of Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, et al.) was typically more proactive than his French counterpart; with characters such as Kerouac's Dean Moriarty famously taking to the road to vanquish his ennui. The British version of the antihero emerged in the works of the "angry young men" of the fifties.
The collective protests of Sixties counterculture saw the solitary antihero gradually eclipsed from fictional prominence, though not without subsequent revivals in literary and cinematic form.
In sports fiction, the sporting antihero is not a team player, challenges officialdom and seeks financial gain over club loyalty; yet still acquires a large fan following by way of his/her actualization of the rebel archetype.
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