Greatest (Anti)-Heros in 20th Century American Fiction

I just finished “Confederacy of Dunces” so I’m definitely biased here, but either way it got me thinking, who are the greatest anti-heroes in 20th Century American Lit?

I’ll submit Holden Caulfield (Catcher), Ignatius Reilly (Confederacy), Yossarian (Catch-22) and Sherman McCoy (Bonfire of the Vanities), Gatsby and finally, Burroughs in Naked Lunch


I’m guessing that “The Punisher” doesn’t count as a literary figure…

Hannibal Lector, surely.

I thought Lector was a villian, not an anti-hero.

By anti-hero, I’d be think of Clint Eastwood as either “The Man with No Name” in the Leone Spaghetti westerns, or as Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry movies.

Roland from King’s Dark Tower series.

Noble by nature, but not above using and sacrificing whomever he sees fit.

Like usual, my first thought when I saw the thread title title is mentioned in the OP(Holden in Catcher). I have to disagree with Roland from SK’s DT. He is a hero, not an anti-hero. How about any character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel?

Harry Flashman

There’s that Parker guy from the Donald Westlake novels. How about Dortmunder?

I’ll second Roland the Gunslinger.

Strictly speaking, this is a Richard Stark novel (RS is a nom de plume of Westlake, but hey, you know that), but I agree Parker is a fine choice for an anti-hero.

Anti-hero: “Principle character of a story who lacks the attributes commonly associated with an heroic figure.”

How about Deckard from Do Androids Dream/Blade Runner?

Or Felix from John Steakley’s ‘Armor’.

Or Michael Corleone.

Alex De Large from a Clockwork orange.
Here is a monsterous 14 year old kid who steals assults and rapes innocents but because he is the Narrator of the novel and because the book is written in his language we are forced to see the world through his eyes and when he is “corrected” we feel he has been wronged. Truly a disturbing experience.

Burke from the Andrew Vachss mysteries.
Kinky Friedman from the Kinky Friedman mysteries.

Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood is a great anti-hero, the would-be atheist caught in a spiritual trap. Young Tarwater in her The Violent Bear It Away is only a shade less brilliant, another young man wrestling with religion.

As well as Jay Gatsby, mentioned in the OP, I’d nominate Richard Diver from Tender is the Night as another of Fitzgerald’s perfect American types. And had he finished it, Monroe Stahl in The Last Tycoon might have been greater than either; F Scott Fitzgerald was brilliant at that sort of romantic yet tragic figure.

George Willard, the small-town newspaper reporter at the centre of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio, is a classic example of the hero as observer, befriending everyone and uncovering their inner story.

I’m struggling to pick a single character from Hemingway, who’s created a number of striking and influential male heroes. Basically, pick the central figure of any of his books.

Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is obviously one of the most memorable and original anti-heroes in recent American literature, all appetite and superficial angst.

kingpengvin, A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess, who is British and therefore not a part of 20th Century American Fiction.