Date of Award

Spring 5-2013

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Katherine Cochran

Advisor Department



Although children’s literature is often dismissed as largely didactic and supportive of entrenched power structures, an examination of the antihero’s development in children’s literature reveals the genre’s complexity and subtle challenges of social mores. Critics focus extensive attention on the redemption of a less-than-ideal character from social deviancy to normalcy in fiction for young readers, but more rarely do they discuss those characters that remain static in their lack of heroic qualities and fail as role models for children. The on-going discussion on conventional subgenres like the school story does not often include texts that subvert the form with bullying or “wimpy” protagonists. Most significantly, the debate over the role of children’s literature in maintaining or questioning adult authority often passes over books that show children committing immoral actions usually reserved for adults. In the following pages, I place the ironic mode and the antihero into the context of literature for children, focusing primarily on a close reading of three texts from British and American writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Each of the protagonists will be examined in light of the cultural contexts of the writers, the overall messages of the books, and the stories’ relationships to existing genre conventions. My research draws conclusions about when the child antihero emerges in literary history, how the antihero helps communicate the writer’s message about a particular issue or society in general, and why a writer chooses for the antihero to find redemption or not. Together, the three novels provide a fascinating look at how children’s novels depart from tradition yet remain very much a part of a literary canon.