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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, September 29, 2023

Some literary antiheroes serve humanity more than heroes

This past month will perhaps be hailed as the month of many deaths. People lose their battle with life every day all over, many of them famous and beloved. But the rapid succession with which the world bid farewell to iconic people this January was entirely unprecedented. And while I mourned the loss of many of them in solidarity with the world, I shall always remember Alan Rickman the most. His brilliance as an actor is sometimes reduced to the sum of just one character, but what a portrayal it was. I am cognizant of the talent with which he flawlessly executed each new character in a movie, but, I also consciously choose to only remember him as the epitome of all antiheroes, Severus Snape.

Harry Potter very acutely defines the majority of us who grew up with it and, while I always had my disdain for the movies, I knew from the moment I saw Rickman look down his large, hooked nose through the curtains of grease around his face that he had done the impossible. Alan Rickman had brought a character to life; he had actualized the very essence of Snape that had only lived on paper and made it even more real for us.

Our relationship with Snape has always been as complicated as Harry’s, if not more. Voldemort always bored me as a villain, with his straightforwardly evil ways. He was almost too simple. But Snape was a complex character who loved and hated, and perhaps played with our emotions the most throughout the series. Even his redemption at the end is a tainted one because, while you know he can love, and does so fiercely, you also realize that he still chooses to hate. He is flawed, the most excellent of antiheroes and will be part of Rickman’s tremendous legacy. In remembering Alan Rickman and the brilliance of his Snape, I bring you some of literature’s beloved antiheroes.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” I always saw Jay Gatsby as not a love-struck romantic hero, but an antihero. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” he is the protagonist who seems to be a dreamer on the surface but courts nothing but tragedy. It’s a classic rag to riches story of someone who saw the shiny veneer of all that glitters and hungered desperately for it; so much so that he got there only with lies and by being an imposter. But all the power and glam can not fill the void created by never being able to be with the woman he loves. His charm and self-deprecation pulls you in, but his flaws and imperfections remind us of the eventual downfall that awaits him just around the corner.

While Holden Caulfield was an offensively scandalizing character back in the 50s when J.D. Salinger penned him in “The Catcher in the Rye,” I imagine he would sound like every other whiny teenager in this decade. The trick then is not to view him with the weary eyes of 2016, but the wholesome goodness of the 50s. Caulfield is then revealed to be the tragically phony character that he truly is. Convinced of his superiority above everyone else for possessing the desire to be authentic and honest, he reduces himself to just another one of them by rebelling so hard. Apathetic to a fault, he rebels more so for the sake of rebelling than for a cause. But he still inspires understanding in us, as someone who is being hurled to a level of corrupted adulthood that is bleak and depressing. We can even find sympathy for him when we remember what it was like to have mounds of terror and the world against us as a teenager. “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

Alan Moore constructed another one of history’s most complex characters in “V for Vendetta,” by leaving the decision to embrace V as a hero or a villain up to us. Does revenge motivate him to set off a chain of events that, in this fictional world, inspire a revolution by putting the power rightly back into the hands of the people, or is he motivated by more grandiose ambitions of justice and giving a voice to the people? This is a question that plagues anyone who intimately familiarizes themselves with V. We are then left tormented over whether we should even question him for the motives that achieve what we rooted for the whole novel, wondering whether if he has just cause to possess nefarious motives against a government that stripped him of his identity. “Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea... and ideas are bulletproof.”

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