Protagonists usually fall into one of the following literary patterns or types:
- The anti-hero: This is the guy your mother would not want you or your sister to date. They are often graceless, selfish, sometimes inept, sometimes brilliant beyond measure, manipulative, and/or dishonest. Many times other characters are actually drawn to them because of the dark qualities. But the anti-hero also exhibits a combination of good and bad qualities. Examples – Jay Gatsby – “the Great Gatsby”, Hannibal Lecter – “The Hannibal Film Series”, Michael Corleone – The “Godfather” films, and Shrek fits this mold as well.
- The tragic hero: This is the person whose bad end is ultimately a result of flaws within oneself (greed, anger, selfishness, etc). Tragic heroes can elicit emotions from the audience (negative and positive). Aristotle argues that these heroes are relatable because they experience (and many times act on) real emotions like jealousy, rage, fear, sadness, or love. They are also thrust into very human situations like the loss of a loved one, war, infidelity, crushed dreams, etc. The tragic hero must transition through a true character arc… many times connected to loss… loss of fortune or fame, or things the character holds dear. Characters change from good to evil, king to pauper, savior to sinner, etc. Examples – Anakin Skywalker – “Revenge of the Sith” or Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”).
- The romantic hero may have been somehow rejected by society or is otherwise non-conventional in their ideas and ways of life. Romantic heroes are also often on some kind of quest, either a physical quest or an emotional/spiritual one — but many times the Romantic hero’s quest begins from a desire to fulfill something for herself or himself, and yet the character ends up serving a greater cause. They may experience cynicism, yet exhibit compassion and offer a willingness for self-sacrifice. Example – Hawkeye – “Last of the Mohicans”)
- The modern hero This is the average (or sometimes less than average) person who is put in extraordinary circumstances and rises to the challenge. Many times this character must overcome internal struggles of internal conflicts along the journey. Example – Forrest Gump
- The Hemingway hero is adventurous, and loves to travel, struggles with internal conflicts, may have been in a war, may drink too much, doesn’t like to show fear or love (these emotions are considered weak), has commitment issues with the opposite sex, guided by an individual set of morals and no one else’s, success is measured by how oneself faces conflicts. These heroes are drawn into heroic opportunities not because of personal choice, but because of situation. Sometimes these heroes will change from selfish to selfless. Examples – James Bond in the “007 films” or Han Solo in the “Star Wars Saga”, or Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- The epic hero is usually of noble birth or upper class, capable of deeds of great strength and courage, great warrior, celebrated in their homeland (or culture), experiences a journey that takes him or her on a quest, practices humility or mercy, and may face supernatural foes and/or receives supernatural help. Example – Simba – “The Lion King.”
- The accidental hero has no desire to carry the mantel of hero. This person stumbles into a conflict, and without truly meaning to, will save the girl, the dog, the day .. or even the world. The accidental hero, at times, actually tries to escape an existing conflict, only to be drawn back into situations where he/she continues to perform heroic actions. It seems that fame, or favor may follow this hero even when the hero runs from it. The accidental hero is one who is in the right place at the right time (or wrong time … depending on your perspective), and by the end of the story may actually embrace heroic attitudes. Ash from the Evil Dead series ultimately becomes the accidental hero.
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