Top 10 Anti-Heroes in American Literature
#10 - Raoul Duke in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS [1971] by Hunter S. Thompson
Raoul Duke in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS [1971] by Hunter S. Thompson Image

 

"We were someplace around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive . . .' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'"

#09 - Randle Patrick McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST [1962] by Ken Kesey
Randle Patrick McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST [1962] by Ken Kesey Image

"Now they tell me a psychopath's a guy fights too much and fucks too much, but they ain't wholly right, do you think? I mean, whoever heard tell of a man gettin' too much poozle?"

#08 - Yossarian in CATCH-22 [1961] by Joseph Heller
Yossarian in CATCH-22 [1961] by Joseph Heller Image

"Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them."

#07 - Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB [1996] by Chuck Palahniuk
Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB [1996] by Chuck Palahniuk Image

"We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact . . . So don't fuck with us."

#06 - Unnamed Narrator in TROPIC OF CANCER [1934] by Henry Miller
Unnamed Narrator in TROPIC OF CANCER [1934] by Henry Miller Image

"What if at the last moment, when the banquet table is set and the cymbals clash, there should appear suddenly, and wholly without warning, a silver platter on which even the blind could see that there is nothing more, and nothing less, than two enormous lumps of shit. That, I believe would be more miraculous than anything which man has looked forward to. It would be miraculous because it would be undreamed of. It would be more miraculous than even the wildest dream because anybody could imagine the possibility but nobody ever has, and probably nobody ever again will."

#05 - Henry Chinaski in HAM ON RYE [1982] by Charles Bukowski
Henry Chinaski in HAM ON RYE [1982] by Charles Bukowski Image

"I made practice runs down to skid row to get ready for my future. I didn't like what I saw down there. Those men and women had no special daring or brilliance. They wanted what everybody else wanted. There were also some obvious mental cases down there who were allowed to walk the streets undisturbed. I had noticed that both in the very poor and very rich extremes of society the mad were often allowed to mingle freely. I knew that I wasn't entirely sane. I still knew, as I had as a child, that there was something strange about myself. I felt as if I were destined to be a murderer, a bank robber, a saint, a rapist, a monk, a hermit. I needed an isolated place to hide. Skid row was disgusting. The life of the sane, average man was dull, worse than death. There seemed to be no possible alternative. Education also seemed to be a trap. The little education I had allowed myself had made me more suspicious. What were doctors, lawyers, scientists? They were just men who allowed themselves to be deprived of their freedom to think and act as individuals. I went back to my shack and drank . . ."

#04 - Dean Moriarty in ON THE ROAD [1957] by Jack Kerouac
Dean Moriarty in ON THE ROAD [1957] by Jack Kerouac Image

"Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparkling flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again."

#03 - Huckleberry Finn in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN [1884] by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN [1884] by Mark Twain Image

"What's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?"

#02 - Jay Gatsby in THE GREAT GATSBY [1925] by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby in THE GREAT GATSBY [1925] by F. Scott Fitzgerald Image

"Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men."

#01 - Holden Caulfield in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE [1951] by J. D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE [1951] by J. D. Salinger Image

"I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn't know anybody. I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody'd think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone."

User Comments - Add a Comment
Mike - 2009-08-03 17:10:32

I'd like to start a discussion on this Catcher in the Rye if anybody's down. the last time I read it was a couple years ago so my memory's hazy, but one thing I remember is I hated it for one reason: in the end Holden is almost a hypocrite because the whole book he speaks of the freedom from society he desperatley craves, and in the end he doesn't do it cause his sister wanted to leave too. I just thought it was rather anti-climactic. The whole book is like a declaration of freedom from self, and in the end he embraces self. let the hate flow...

jess! - 2009-08-13 20:08:06

i'd say that the irony was entirely the point of the novel. i've never read it, but if the whole novel preaches freedom, and freedom is not achieved at the end due to a character a flaw, it tends to be on purpose. something like "'repent, harlequin,' said the ticktockman".

Harrison - 2009-08-21 17:54:06

Where's Ingnatius J. Reilly from "A confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. Hes less of a hero than any of these so called anti-heroes

4thtimearound - 2009-08-26 18:42:04

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom from John Updike's 4-part Rabbit series should be on here.

Chris - 2009-08-29 21:41:02

I would definitely add Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to this list. Definitely agree with Dean Moriarty and Raoul Duke though. I guess most people know that Raoul Duke is essentially Hunter S Thompson himself, he's quite an idol to some.

Anonymous - 2009-09-19 08:09:29

arthur dent from hitchikers guide > holden caulfield holden is just pathetic, as is the book. Anyone who says otherwise should go back to their sleeping bags and jerk off on their sticky copies of catcher in the rye. Arthur Dent is the pen-ultimate anti-hero. The dude is happiest when he is a sandwich maker for a back-asswards world in some lost fucked up dimension, and still finds time for tea.

Bob - 2009-09-21 19:46:18

Great list of books. I haven't read all of them, but I'll be certain to bookmark your page. I want to remember to check more of them out. Thanks again. Great list.

Myona - 2009-09-25 02:36:08

To anonymous at 9-19: Hitchhiker's isn't American Lit, Douglas Adams is British.

Anonymous - 2009-09-25 03:22:20

You can't get any more anti-hero than Patrick Bateman of American Psycho.

James Grover - 2009-10-01 23:40:55

"Anonymous" should look up "penultimate" and find out what it means.

Steve R - 2009-10-01 23:56:53

Where's Dick Diver from Fitzgerald's 'Tender is the Night'?

Shayna - 2009-10-15 20:53:55

C'mon, a list of anti-heroes that doesn't include Humbert Humbert, of Nabokov's Lolita? You can't top a pedophiliac poet.

u.v.ray - 2010-01-28 17:38:16

I was immediately going to suggest: Ingnatius J. Reilly from A confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. But have already been beaten to it - and rightly so!

Korbl - 2010-03-10 17:58:12

I'd argue Jay Gatsby, if I could remember anything about the book other than it's sheer interminable unreadability and pointlessness.

Victoria - 2010-07-22 03:02:45

Mike: I think the reason Holden didn't want to leave because his sister did too was that he didn't want her to end up like him. He had a terrible self-esteem throughout the book, and I think he would have liked to "preserve her innocence" and keep her from turning into someone like him. That's just what I think though :)

Iztok - 2013-01-30 16:31:48

Man that's great! I've been checking few of your lists and I'm very glad that you've put Camus' The Stranger as the top existential novel and Holden C. as the top anti-hero in American literature! Cheers!

Poser, the - 2013-11-27 01:04:33

Catcher in the Rye sucked, plain and simple.