Anti-heroes have been around for centuries. Their origins can be traced back thousands of years, especially in ancient Roman and Greek mythology. Literary works such as the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer show evidence characteristic of an anti-hero. Anti-heroes are protagonists who, unlike the traditional hero, lacks conventional heroic attributes such as morality, courage, and selflessness. Because anti-heroes often act upon their own rules, they will disregard the law and take matters into their own hands in order to achieve their goal. Generally, anti-heroes have faced some hardship or tragedy, internal or external, which guides their actions. Although the anti-hero's motives are impure, they may exhibit heroic intention in order to gain sympathy. Unlike villains or antagonists, anti-heroes have the potential to redeem or transform themselves. They carry an underlying pathos, confirming that they have flaws and carry issues with them that create a character that is far from perfect. This potential for emotional growth and adaptation combined with the reader's relatability to such characters allows anti-heroes to become increasingly popular in fictional works of literature. .
In the early 20th century, as Americans faced the decision between maintaining traditional views vs. progressing into a modern world, anti-heroism began to rise once again. During the post-war era in the 1920s, many people attempted to make sense of the world around them and find some kind of order. Shadi Neimeh (2013) reaffirms this by stating that "a changing society with a changing cultural climate necessitated a change in the models of heroism" (The Anti-Hero in Modernist Fiction, 76). Protagonists became morally ambiguous in order to reflect the complexity of modern life. The anti-hero became a prominent part of American pop culture after major events such as World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and Watergate.