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  • Literary critic Northrop Frye once observed

  • that in our primitive days, our literary heroes were -- well, nearly gods,

  • and as civilization advanced, they came down the mountain of the gods, so to speak,

  • and became more human, more flawed, less heroic.

  • From the divine heroes like Hercules,

  • down the mountain below the miraculous but mortal heroes such as Beowulf,

  • the great leaders such as King Arthur,

  • and the great but flawed heroes like Macbeth or Othello.

  • Below even the unlikely but eventual heroes such as Harry Potter,

  • Luke Skywalker, or Hiccup,

  • until we reach the bottom and meet the anti-hero.

  • Contrary to the sound, the anti-hero is not the villain, not the antagonist.

  • The anti-hero is actually the main character in some contemporary works of literature.

  • Guy Montag in "Fahrenheit 451," Winston Smith in "1984,"

  • who unwittingly ends up challenging those in power -- that is,

  • those who abuse their power to brainwash the populace to believe that the ills of society have been eliminated.

  • Ideally, those who challenge the establishment should be wise, confident, brave,

  • physically strong, with a type of charisma that inpires followers.

  • The anti-hero, however, at best demonstrates a few underdeveloped traits,

  • at worst, is totally inept.

  • The story of the anti-hero usually unfolds something like this.

  • The anti-hero initially conforms, ignorantly accepting the established views,

  • a typical, unquestioning, brainwashed member of society.

  • The anti-hero struggles to conform, all the while starting to object,

  • perhaps finding other outsiders with whom to voice his questions,

  • and naïvely, unwisely, sharing those questions with an authority figure.

  • The anti-hero openly challenges society,

  • and tries to fight against the lies and tactics used to oppress the populace.

  • This step, for the anti-hero, is seldom a matter of brave, wise and heroic opposition.

  • Maybe the anti-hero fights and succeeds in destroying the oppressive government,

  • with a lot of impossible luck.

  • Perhaps he or she runs away, escapes to fight another day.

  • All too often though, the anti-hero is killed, or brainwashed

  • to return to conformity with the masses.

  • No heroic triumph here, no brave individual standing up against impersonal institutions of a modern world,

  • inspiring others to fight, or resourcefully outwitting and outgunning the massive army of the evil empire.

  • Our storytelling ancestors calmed our fears of powerlessness

  • by giving us Hercules and other heroes strong enough to fight off the demons and monsters

  • that we suspected haunted the night beyond our campfires.

  • But eventually, we realized the monsters did not lie out there,

  • they reside inside of us.

  • Beowulf's greatest enemy was mortality.

  • Othello's, jealousy.

  • Hiccup, self-doubt.

  • And in the tales of the ineffectual anti-hero, in the stories of Guy Montag and Winston Smith,

  • lie the warnings of contemporary storytellers playing on very primitive fears:

  • that we are not strong enough to defeat the monsters.

  • Only this time, not the monsters chased away by the campfire,

  • but the very monsters who built the campfire in the first place.

Literary critic Northrop Frye once observed

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B2 TED-Ed anti heroic brave beowulf campfire

【TED-Ed】An antihero of one's own - Tim Adams

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    Kevin Tan posted on 2014/08/16
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