Comics provide many examples of villains, those mustache-twirling fiends hell-bent on wrecking havoc on the long-suffering hero. Many of those cherished holiday themed stories have those villains, too. Think of the magician who tormented poor Frosty the Snowman. You know who the bad guy is. Often, the villain’s clothing is a dead giveaway. His dark attire stands in stark contrast to the vibrant colors or white worn by the hero. The villain’s laugh is menacing, a foreboding of evil. Yet, at the end of many of these stories, evil loses and the villain is defeated. After all, the villain must be conquered in order for the hero to achieve the promised “happily ever after” and ride off into the sunset.
Fiction, however, does not take such a simplistic approach to the age old question of good versus evil. The interest generated in a fine work of fiction lay in its ability to add color to its characters. These characters grapple with their behavior and weigh the consequences of their choices. When the reader pulls back the layers, he or she discovers a hero despite villainous attributes.
The term “anti-hero” has been coined. An anti-hero is considered a flawed hero. The anti-hero doesn’t seem to possess heroic qualities. Anti-Heroes often lie. They are jaded and selfish using people to advance their own interests. They have dark secrets hovering in their personal narratives.
Literature is full of anti-heroes. Two examples from classic literature are Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara. These characters lie. They steal. They use people. They view their world through the lens of heartache and will do whatever it takes to better their circumstances, even at the expense of others. We want to hate them for their actions. But, somehow, we understand them. We want the best for them. We want them to become better people. Our ability to forgive them as we partake in their journeys, is the key to championing their redemption.
We identify with the anti-hero because when we look in the mirror, we may discover that we too are anti-heroes.