Why do you think certain writers use anti-heroes as protagonists?
An anti-hero is a character in a story who lacks traditional ‘heroic’ qualities. While heroes are expected to have noble qualities such as courage, strength, altruism etc., anti–heroes may lack such qualities. Anti-heroes have been a part of literature for thousands of years. The idea of a hero who is flawed and has human insecurities rather than epic virtues has fascinated many writers and readers alike.
Anti-heroes have appeared in literature as early as the time of Greek dramas. Many of the mythological and classical figures known from eastern and western culture fit into the anti-hero mold. However, anti-heroes came into focus and entered the main stream of literature in large numbers during the modernism era and afterwards. As the 20th century progressed, the use of anti-heroes as protagonists appealed more to writers as a means to reflect the increasing complexity of human life.
Writers use anti-heroes as protagonists because the complexity of their characters reflects our own. While we admire heroes and their noble qualities, we can seldom relate to them on a personal level. But anti-heroes are flawed, just like us. And their flaws are what make them relatable to us. In ”Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the protagonist Giovanni Guasconti unknowingly projects his own fantasies, fears and desires on Beatrice and credits and punishes her for various intentions which stem from his own mind. The complexity of his character mirrors that of our own and prompts us to go on a journey of self-discovery alongside him.
Having an anti-hero has a protagonist in a story makes it much more interesting. Traditional heroes are predictable and can be somewhat boring. In a given situation it is usually easy for readers to assess how a traditional hero will react. But putting an anti-hero in the same situation opens up a whole new range of possibilities. In “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville the protagonist resented Bartleby for his whimsical behavior and at the same time felt sympathy for him. At one point he decided to let Bartleby stay in his office despite not working there. Later on having faced criticism from people he decided to change his office and leave Bartleby to fend for himself. When Bartleby ended up in prison he even went there from time to time to check up on him. In a given situation it was difficult for readers to predict how he might react and this made the story all the more interesting.
Writers prefer to use anti –heroes as protagonists because they are liberating. An anti-hero does not have traditional heroic qualities admired by society such as like bravery, kindness, etc. They can have demons, flaws, and insecurities like regular people. For example, the protagonist in TS Elliot’s “The Love song of J. Albert Prufrock” does not fall into the traditional heroic mold. He is a man who has feelings of insecurity about himself. He is self-conscious of his appearance, about how he comes across to women, and feels alienated from society. As a character it is liberates him from having the traditional qualities expected in a hero. It is liberating for writers and readers alike whens protagonists are portrayed differently than the traditionally idealistic views of society.
Writers use anti-heroes because they do not want to portray a protagonist in black or white, but a moral shade of grey which makes him human. Nobody is perfect, and reading about someone who is perfect doesn’t appeal to readers either. Readers like to read about a person who has flaws and mixed morals like them. The imperfectness of anti-heroes is what makes them so relatable to readers and make them follow alongside them in their journeys.