Free Thesis Proposal About The Super Anti-Hero Representing The Zeitgeist Of Western Culture

Type of paper: Thesis Proposal

Topic: Literature, America, Culture, Sociology, United States, Violence, World, Marvell

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Published: 2023/05/15


The minority of works is appealing to find an association between the popularization of the anti-hero concept with the trends and moods actual in the society of nowadays. Therefore, in order to both provide the reasons for anti-hero popularization and explain the importance of this concept for modern society, the following research will consider the most popular and significant anti-heroes depicted in modern literature. In particular, the research will focus on anti-heroes created by Marvel comics due to the fact that comics provide the easiest and the most favorable way to represent the heroes, anti-heroes and villains to the society. What is more important to consider, is the evolution of the anti-heroes, as their images and their attitudes towards life and society was always changing according to the corresponding changes in the social system of the time.
For example, Captain America represents an embodiment of a classic anti-hero image created during the years of World War II. His image represents classic “anti-hero” approach to solving problems and/or various conflicts, which is significantly different to the ones of Marvel anti-heroes created further. For example, James Howlett a.k.a Wolverine becomes a new anti-hero representation with his values representing the spirit of the age, still expressing significant willingness to help the weaker and bring justice at all costs. With the help of the aforementioned images of anti-hero, the research is willing to prove that currently the Western Society requires more violent and aggressive anti-heroes or vigilantes in order to face the truth regarding justice and morality. In particular, the anti-heroes like The Punisher and Deadpool represent the current desire for sarcastic, rude and vicious heroes being the only one to fight evil and injustice; however, their own image appears to be rather doubtful and can rarely be classified as virtuous. Thus, the paper aims to describe the Western zeitgeist evolution with the help of anti-heroes being popular in mass culture along with the ways the vigilantism and justice concepts are influenced by them.

Statement of the Problem: what gaps can you fill in research?

Considering the statement of the problem for the overall research, it is worth stating that it focuses on answering the question of the evolution of classic anti-hero archetype according to the corresponding western culture’s zeitgeist. In this regard, the most important problem is that there is little critical and analytical study has been performed related to realistic and idealistic embodiments of anti-hero along with simultaneities of his forms according to zeitgeist changes.

Statement of purpose: what problem are you trying to solve?

As for the purpose of this research, it is worth stating that it aims to demonstrate the evolution of the concept of anti-hero, starting with a classic archetypal protagonist defined by the image of Marvel’s Captain America and changing to contemporary representations of anti-hero fitting into corresponding changes in Western social and cultural system. With the help of literary theories of new historicism and postmodernism, the study is also going to evaluate the development and growth of archetype of anti-hero and along with respective social and cultural changes of Western nations.

Chapter Overview

Chapter One: The Fall of Heroism and the Rise of Anti-heroism
As a literature concept, anti-hero has been invented and introduced to the world literature by Dostoevsky in his Notes from Underground, where the protagonist did not even fit into any heroic trait, still remaining the dominant character of the novel (Murat). Still, the term was popularized in the 1970s by the literature critics, defining the archetype in its basic terms: it is “the chief person in a modern novel or play whose character is widely discrepant from that which we associate with the traditional protagonist or hero of a serious literary work. Instead of manifesting largeness, dignity, power, or heroism, the antihero is petty, ignominious, passive, ineffectual or dishonest.” (Abrams). Afterwards, the term finds its representation in massive culture and in graphic and comic books, in particular. Especially, with the advent of classic superheroes saving the world in their virtuous and noble manner, the readers sooner or later needed the protagonist more alive and close to reality, with his own morale and principles with corresponding attitude to life that cannot be considered as classically heroic.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

The section analyzes major publications related to the archetype of anti-hero and its development, according to the social and cultural changes in Western social systems. The explanations of scholars and specialists constitute that the classic heroes and first anti-heroes of comic books could manage saving the world without bringing suffering and significant damages to humanity’s existence and well-being. As the readers faced more social injustice in their real life, they were offered more radical and effective methods of fighting evil. They are continuously shown with the help of mass culture that nowadays the evil cannot be fought with virtue, but only with another evil. For example “The Dark Triad of personality is composed of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Despite the common belief that these traits are undesirable, the media is awash with characters that embody the Dark Triad” (Jonason et al.). Therefore, the contemporary anti-heroes represent a doubtful image of individuals that are rather selfish vigilantes or avengers rather than heroes fighting for common good.

Chapter Three: The Rise of the Comic: Captain America

Being released in 1941, one of the first avengers, Marvel’s Captain America, represented a classical anti-hero also being a symbol of American nationalistic aims to become involved in World War II. Being a hero, saving the American world, he also represented the values that nowadays could be characterized as racist and proclaiming the dominance of white race compared to the rest ( The message of the first issues of comic books was to depict the evils of Nazi Germany and introduce them to masses in America. And even despite the fact that the majority of the Americans favored the isolationist approach in entering the WWII, introduction of Captain America has stimulated the social eagerness to fight for justice against the Third Reich (Kelley).

Chapter Four: Advent of Vigilantism, Marvel’s Wolverine and Ghost Rider

Further, in the middle of 1970s, the Western society faced a significant change in its values and priorities. Contradicting the interests of military active 1940s and 1960s, the 1970s were the years of economic recession with the corresponding end of the active social struggle against their enemies. Americans started following their own interests instead of losing their time and money in pursuing the global goals (VOA). During these times, the heroes of the Marvel’s comic books have also become more violent and aggressive because of being tired of injustice facing their fictional life. The characters like Wolverine and Ghost Rider were not designed as heroes, but rather victims of their own nature and personality. However, such internal suffering of their own complex characters has also become a significant force to fight the injustice, but only the ones that they currently see or concerns them somehow (

Chapter Five: Contemporary Anti-heroes, Marvel’s Punisher and Deadpool

Afterwards, starting from the 1980s – 1990s and till nowadays, the technical revolution and advent of the Internet, computerization and popularization of social networks have created even more violent and cynic characters that appear to be rather vigilantes avenging their sufferings and/or losses. The heroes of nowadays are the people that have no other option than to fight evil, as they have got nothing to lose and seems like they do not care about the consequences of their actions. Like Punisher or Deadpool, they are obsessed with their revenge or madness and they do not care about the humanity, as they care about their own interests only. What is more important, unlike the heroes of 1970s, they do not even think about murder or massive destruction as the vicious act or an act of evil. That’s why they appear to be pursued by legitimate peacemaking forces and rejected by the officials in accepting their help (


Summarizing everything that has been mentioned above, it is worth concluding that the concept of anti-hero represented in mass culture exactly corresponds to the cultural and social system of the time of its public introduction. In particular, the values and expectations of heroes saving the day have been changing since the middle of the 20th century. Correspondingly, the classic anti-hero represented then has not a single trait similar with the anti-heroes of the 21st century, as the classic anti-heroes were less violent and cynic in their attempts to save the world. Moreover, the act of killing for them was the biggest sin for them, while killing enemies for modern anti-heroes appears to be a casual routine. Therefore, the moral and ethic image of them appears to be doubtful and more realistic. On the contrary, the modern villains are represented as mild, silent and kind from the first sight, while being evil inside. The heroes for Western society have significantly changed, as well. Most of them does not want to be heroes and bear the responsibility for saving the lives of other people; however, they appear in situations, when only they can be the heroes. They are rude, insane, sarcastic, cynic, as a result of their physical and/or intellectual force. They know the price of justice and that’s why they are not willing to fight for it. Rather, they are involved in saving the world along with pursuing their own goals of saving the ones they love or care about, of earning money and fame or simply to kill their boredom. Still, they appear to be the only heroes the current society deserves and admires nevertheless.


Statement of significance: why is this thesis important?
The study proves its importance in defining and profoundly examining the concept of anti-hero with the help of corresponding highlights of the cultural and social influences of this archetype. Moreover, the importance of this work lies in the significant lack of related studies seeking to assess the cultural and social influences of anti-hero archetype.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary Of Literary Terms. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999. Print.,. "Captain America Comics #1 - Meet Captain America (Issue)". N.p., 2015. Web. 8 Jan. 2016.
Jonason, Peter K. et al. "The Antihero In Popular Culture: Life History Theory And The Dark Triad Personality Traits.". Review of General Psychology 16.2 (2012): 192-199. Web.
Kelley, Marc. The Golden Age Of Comic Books: Representations Of American Culture From The Great Depression To The Cold War. 1st ed. Marquette University, 2009. Web. 8 Jan. 2016.,. "Punisher (Frank Castle) - Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source For Marvel Super Hero Bios.". N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Jan. 2016.,. "Wolverine (James Howlett) - Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source For Marvel Super Hero Bios.". N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Jan. 2016.
Murat, KADİROĞLU. "A Genealogy Of Antihero". Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Dergisi 52.2 (2012): 1. Web.
VOA,. "1970S And '80S Were A Period Of Change In American Society". N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Jan. 2016.

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