But WHY do we have that reaction?
An argument between this five would be amazing because they are the same character!
The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, House’s Dr. Gregory House, Ironman’s Tony Stark, Sherlock’s Sherlock Holmes, and The Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow are all based on the anti-hero archetype.
An anti-hero is a character who lacks the traditional heroic attributes. In other words, the anti-hero is a flawed hero. Let’s take a look at the common personality traits.
The anti-hero is an annoying genius.
The anti-hero’s best quality is that he is super-logical and excellent at problem solving. This forces other characters to put up with him to get his help (yay, conflict).
- Sheldon Cooper is a physics genius.
- Dr. House solves medical diagnostic mysteries.
- Tony Stark is an engineering genius.
- Sherlock Holmes solves traditional mysteries in unorthodox ways.
- Captain Jack Sparrow prefers to solve duels with wit instead of a sword.
The anti-hero is confrontational but honest.
The anti-hero loves to debate– and in his mind he always wins! This gives him an air of superiority that comes off as comical. He can also be stubborn in his views and demeaning.
- House insults his team of doctors, often picking fights to help debate the diagnosis.
- Captain Jack Sparrow can fast-talk his way out of any problem.
- Sheldon Cooper is extremely frank, which comes off as argumentative.
The anti-hero plays by his own rules when it comes to relationships.
(And maybe he’s so damn attractive that we don’t care.) This includes romantic relationships as well as general societal relationships– for example, the anti-hero does not respect authority.
- Tony Stark is a true playboy, complete with alcohol, private planes, and lots of ladies.
- Sheldon Cooper demands contracts from his roommate Leonard and his girlfriend Amy– all interactions are on his terms.
- Captain Jack Sparrow is a pirate, which is the ultimate buck against authority. He’s also quite the lady’s man.
The anti-hero is morally ambiguous but is not a villain.
While a villain hates others for his own inadequacies, an anti-hero turns that hatred inward (often with abuse of drugs and alcohol). In the end, he grudgingly works for the greater good (or maybe his self-interests just happen to align with doing the right thing).
- Though Sherlock Holmes may help out on matters of national security, he also uses drugs like cocaine (in the book version).
- House abuses painkillers while saving lives.
- Though Tony Stark decides not to manufacture weapons anymore after he sees how they are used, he fights crime with himself as the weapon.
Despite all the flaws, we respect the anti-hero for his genius, admire his quick wit, and look past his rudeness because he speaks the truth.
Where are the YA anti-heroes?
The anti-hero isn’t often on the YA adventure. Why not?
Because our YA heroes need more room to grow. Traditional heroes leave home and go on journeys; Anti-heroes mostly stay where they are and let problems come to them (which they then solve).
I can only think of two YA anti-heroes: Alaska Young from John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Just like the five anti-heroes pictured here, Alaska and Holden are smart, attractive, frank, stubborn, rebellious, and emotionally unavailable.
As for the three books we’re currently breaking down (the first books of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games), there isn’t a clear anti-hero: Katniss has the sharpest tongue but she’s too unsure of herself. Maybe in the later Harry Potter books we could consider Professor Snape or Sirius Black.
Anyway, I just saw this image and thought it was a great example of how character archetypes are alive and thriving in our favorite stories. The anti-hero won’t get stale as long as you put your own spin on the archetype.
P.S. My favorite anti-hero is Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. She can out-hack any authority to help solve mysteries. Who is your favorite fictional anti-hero?