The Anti-Hero


Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground (1864/2008) comes across as a diary penned by a self-described “spiteful” and “unattractive” anonymous narrator (p. 7). The narrator’s own self-loathing characterized by self-alienation is so obvious, that he is often referred to by critics as the Underground Man (Frank 1961, p. 1). Yet this Underground Man is the central character of Dostoyevsky’s novel and represents a subversion of the typical courageous hero. In this regard, the Underground man is an anti-hero, since as a protagonist he not only challenges the typical literary version of a hero, but also challenges conventional thinking (Brombert 1999, p. 1).


Cuddon and Preston (1998) describe the anti-hero as a “non-hero” since he comes across as the “antithesis of a hero” (p. 42). The traditional hero is demonstrative of heroism and is typically characterized as “dashing, strong, brave and resourceful” (Cuddon and Preston 1998, pp. 42-43). The antihero turns this protagonist around to such an extent that he manifests what appears to be “failure” (Cuddon and Preston 1998, p. 43). In other words, the antihero, unlike the hero is not known for his successes but rather for his negative traits (Matz 2004, p. 46).

Grabes, Diller and Isernhagen (1983) point out that during much of the second half of the 1800s, a number of antiheros characterized by inactivity and withdrawal in either a physical or abstract way began to appear with remarkable frequency (p. 305). Matz (2004) explains that being an antihero however does not make the protagonist “unlikeable, uninteresting or absurd” (p. 46). In fact , Matz (2004) reminds that “there is real heroism in anti-heroism, in an unheoric world” (p. 46...

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Golstein, V. Lermontov’s Narratives of Heroism. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998.

Grabes, Herbert; Diller, Hans-Jurgen and Isernhagen, Hartwig. Real: The Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature, Volume 5. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyter and Co. 1983.

Matz, Jesse. The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Fairfield, IA: 1st World Library, 2004.

Trilling, Lionell. “The Fate of Pleasure Wordsworth to Dostoevski.” Cited in Wimsatt, William Kurtz (Ed.). Literary Criticism—Idea and Act: The English Institute, 1939-1972: Selected Essays. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1974.
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