Deconstructed Character Archetype
Deconstructing a trope
involves taking an existing trope, playing it straight and examining the likely consequences or implications of that trope that tend to be ignored by straight examples of it. This trope does the same thing, but for fictional character archetypes.
One way to do this is to take a familiar character type and place the character in a realistic setting, and then explore what happens as a result of the character being Wrong Genre Savvy
. Another is to explore likely facets of the character's personality or background that straight examples of the trope tend to overlook. This can also be done as part of a Genre Deconstruction
, if certain character archetypes are closely associated with a particular genre. A particularly interesting (and decidedly meta) way to do this is by taking an actor known only for playing certain kinds of roles
and casting them in a role which deconstructs that character type
. Note, however, that an actor deconstructing their established persona or character type is not automatically an example of this trope, unless their persona is a recognizable character archetype in its own right.
As a rule of thumb, examples of this trope should be deconstructions of character archetypes which already have their own trope pages (The Hero
, The Lancer
etc.), unless the character archetype is no longer in current use (Discredited Trope
, Forgotten Trope
A subtrope of both Deconstruction
and Deconstructed Trope
(insofar as character archetypes are tropes in their own right). Compare Wrong Genre Savvy
and Playing with Character Type
. See also Deconstruction
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Anime and Manga
- Light Yagami of Death Note is one for the Shōnen hero archetype: a young, justice-loving Chaste Hero (a narcissistic Knight Templar with delusions of godhood) who discovers magical powers (a notebook that can be used to instantly murder anybody) and gains a Spirit Buddy (an amoral embodiment of death), makes a Worthy Opponent rival (a detective trying to apprehend him for his crimes) and picks up a persistent Genki Girl love interest (a vapid pop idol who's fanatically obsessed with him and, despite barely knowing him, is instantly willing to kill for, die for and marry him).
- Half of Neon Genesis Evangelion's characters are first presented as classic anime stereotypes of the Humongous Mecha genre, but as the series progresses they are revealed to be extremely messed-up individuals whose behavior is an endless source of troubles. Most of the series involves exploring just what sort of mental issues such characters would develop.
- School Days begins like a typical Harem Anime, with the average looking protagonist, suddenly gaining the attention of many cute girls at his high school. However, unlike other shows that play it for laughs, this show gives the viewer a realistic example of what can happen when a boy suddenly starts getting with different girls and the psychological damage that it can cause. The protagonist seeing the girls as nothing but sex objects. To the girls that really care about the protagonist getting mentally damaged by his behavior. So much so that one could be forced to commit murder.
- As part of Unforgiven's Genre Deconstruction of Westerns as a whole, William Munny is a deconstruction of Clint Eastwood's earlier Western character(s), namely those from the Dollars Trilogy. The film examines in detail the viciousness and amorality of the archetypical Western outlaw, and finds the elderly Munny filled with guilt and self-loathing at the monstrous things in his past.
- Many films have taken issue with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype:
- For the first half of He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, the protagonist appears to be a typically sweet, hopelessly romantic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only for the film to reveal that she is in fact a violent, insane Yandere, whose innocent romantic spirit is symptomatic of her complete and utter detachment from reality.
- Annie Hall. The title character is a cheerful Bohemian, who turns out to be a spoiled, unfocused, pseudo-intellectual, neurotic child in an adult's body; a horribly broken person. Which gives her something in common with Woody Allen's character, who is likewise horribly broken, just in somewhat different ways.
- Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is this type of character, though the relationship plays out more realistically. She even references the "you complete me" line, to her distaste, from Jerry Maguire. She also Lampshades this to a certain degree, saying that Joel shouldn't expect her to "save" him, and that she's "just a fucked-up girl looking for her own peace of mind." Joel sums up her MPDG-ness and the film's deconstruction of it during his tape recording for Lacuna:
"I think if there's a truly seductive quality about Clementine, it's that her personality promises to take you out of the mundane. It's like, you secure yourself with this amazing, burning meteorite to carry you to another world, a world where things are exciting. But, what you quickly learn is that it's really an elaborate ruse."
- Deconstructed in the 1969 film The Sterile Cuckoo, one of Liza Minelli's early films. Pookie fulfills all of the requirements of a MPDG, including breaking the lead character out of his shell. But towards the end of the film is revealed she is much more damaged and vulnerable than anyone has expected. She completely breaks out of the traditional mold at the ending, where she and her boyfriend break up, and she is literally Put on a Bus.
- In Ruby Sparks, all of Calvin's written/dreamt interactions with Ruby play out like she is a conventional Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Once she's real, their relationship becomes a Deconstruction.
- Marla Singer in Fight Club could perhaps best be described as what happens when the Manic Pixie Dream Girl grows up. Marla is dirty, living in poverty, and clearly suffering some form of mental illness, and gets into a fairly unhealthy relationship with Tyler. Marla actually infuriates the narrator because she simply doesn't care about anything.
- Summer Finn in (500) Days of Summer is seen as an MPDG by the protagonist Tom, who puts her on a pedestal as his ideal girlfriend, but his image of her soon clashes with the fact that she's an actual human being. Specifically, she's not interested in anything serious, and she eventually leaves Tom for another man.
- Punch Drunk Love deconstructs the Psychopathic Manchild. Adam Sandler's character is, like always, antisocial, emotionally immature, and prone to uncontrollable fits of anger. Instead of that being a source of comedy, it leads to awkward, embarrassing situations, and the character leads a lonely, depressing life. Roger Ebert discussed this in his review of the film.
- The Breakfast Club takes a very good look at what many of the "stock" characters of teen movies (especially those of The Eighties) would be like if they existed in real life, and what their real motivations would be like. Most American teen movies since have used elements of this film's deconstruction wholesale for their own characterization, to the point where, in many cases, what had once been deconstruction is now old hat.
- Andy, the Jerk Jock, only behaves that way in order to fit in with the rest of the team and to impress his father, who raised him on stories of how he acted like that back when he was in school. He wishes that, one day, he'd get injured so that he wouldn't have to wrestle again, and thus never have to worry about living up to Dad's expectations.
- Claire, the Alpha Bitch, is a Type A Stepford Smiler who feels that her life is empty, and that her parents only use her as a tool in their endless arguments. And she's hardly the "queen bee" — in fact, it's peer pressure that essentially molded her into the snobbish bitch that she is, and she feels miserably forced into it.
- Brian, the Nerd, hates how his parents have destroyed his social life by pushing him so hard to succeed, and is so obsessed with his grades that he tried to kill himself (or worse) after getting an F in shop class. His attitude is also little better than that of the "popular" kids that he hates, as shown when he talks about how he took shop class because he thought it was an easy A that only "losers" like Bender took (as opposed to his advanced math classes).
- Bender, the juvenile delinquent, is like that not because he's a bad person per se, but as a result of his tough, working-class upbringing and his abusive father, both of which have taught him that violence is an acceptable solution to problems. His badass image is also easily disarmed by Andy, even though he's armed with a knife.
- Allison, the crazy loner, intentionally acts crazy and theatrically in order to get attention, something her parents don't give her. She doesn't bother to hide her blatant thefts and eccentricities, and her withdrawn persona is actually just a ploy to get people to give her more attention.
- In the Scream series, Sidney evolves from a straight Final Girl into a deconstruction of such. Even in the first film, there's a quick scene of a shameless tabloid journalist (played by Linda Blair) asking her "how does it feel to be almost brutally murdered?" In the second film, her life has grown to be defined by her status as the survivor of a massacre, and while this has brought her fame, fortune, movie deals, and (by the fourth movie) a bestselling autobiography, it also means that she is constantly having to look over her shoulder for the next wannabe Ghostface. And then she has to repeat the entire experience, watching her friends getting slaughtered all over again by the pissed-off mother of the last killer, looking for payback against Sidney for killing her son. By the third film, she's living in a self-imposed isolation bordering on Crazy Survivalist levels, working from home under a fake name and suffering recurring nightmares about Ghostface killing her. For a real Final Girl, the horror wouldn't end when the credits roll — she'd have to live with the experience for the rest of her life. Fortunately, the passage of time and the settling of her family drama (and, presumably, years of therapy) mean that she's gotten somewhat better by the fourth film.
- Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a deconstruction of the Action Mom trope. While very badass, it's out of necessity, as she's Properly Paranoid about robot assassins coming from the future to hunt her and her child. She is thus constantly training to keep herself in peak ability, as one mistake at the wrong time could cost her life. Additionally, her knowledge of her son John Connor as The Chosen One has deteriorated their relationship, as she's spent more time training him for his future military career than she has to care and comforting him. By the time they meet again in his pre-teens, he's uncertain whether she actually loves him or just wants him to live long enough to defeat the machines.
- The movie Heat is such a treatment of the Gentleman Thief stock character. Neil MacCauley has the charm and all the connections, but he's painfully lonely, and won't get close to anyone for fear that the cops will be right around the corner. The one major job he's involved in goes terribly awry, and results in over half of his team being killed by the cops. MacCauley gets more violent as the film progresses, culminating in his revenge overriding his need to escape. He ends up proving his own adage right when he flees (and leaves his girlfriend) after he sees Vincent Hanna pursuing him, and winds up dead at the end of the film.
- Inception is a deconstruction of the Determinator. The eponymous act involves placing a single, simple idea deep into an unwitting subject's subconscious — that they will never be rid of. This single idea will define them for the rest of their lives, and both the primary protagonist and antagonist demonstrate how it can backfire. Spectacularly.
- The Social Network takes the Self-Made Man archetype that is idealized in American culture and puts it through the ringer. In a few short years, the main character goes from a nerdy nobody at Harvard who can't keep his girlfriend to the world's youngest billionaire with his creation, and gets everything that he could possibly want... but it's also heavily implied that a lot of people got ruined or otherwise screwed over in the process, that he possibly stole the idea for his website in order to get to that point, that his flawed personality traits are precisely what allowed him to rise to the top, and that, even with all his material wealth, he's no happier than he was before. This is hardly the first time that such themes have been explored — indeed, it's not even the first time that the film's own writer has done this.
- The Hero (Cameron Vale) of the first Scanners movie deconstructs The Chosen One: he's the only "Scanner" with the power to stop Daryl Revok, he's an absolute psychic Badass ...and he is completely devoid of personality beyond his mission to stop Revok, which he has been raised to do by an (unknown to him) Evil Mentor.
- A Song of Ice and Fire is prone to this sort of thing.
- Lyanna Stark deconstructs the Distressed Damsel. While her abduction by crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen is certainly the stuff of songs, it also did cause a civil war wherein she, her brother, and her father all died.
- Ned Stark deconstructs The Good Chancellor — he looks out for his king, but trusts the wrong people, ending in his execution.
- His oldest son Robb deconstructs the Kid Hero and/or A Child Shall Lead Them. After his father's death he's crowned King and attempts to avenge him. He's very talented in battle but makes several political blunders thanks to his naivete, including forsaking an Arranged Marriage for his beautiful ladylove. The stuff of songs — except it gets him brutally murdered and causes the alliance to fall apart.
- Robb's sister Sansa deconstructs the Princess Classic and/or The Ingenue. She's a high lord's daughter, feminine, good at ladylike activities, painfully naive, and a tad haughty. However, her naivete and innocence only seem to make her life hell, as her father is killed, she's betrothed to a Bastard Bastard and is taken advantage of and treated like a pawn by people she trusts throughout the story.
- Ned's youngest daughter Arya deconstructs the Tomboy Princess: Initially a free-spirited, sword-slinging little girl who despises the gender norms of Westeros, upon her father's death she falls back onto the one thing she took solace in prior to that: sword fighting. She spends most of her time trying to avenge her family, and slowly becomes more and more violent and unstable until she becomes a Professional Killer before she even hits puberty.
- Robert Baratheon, in his youth, was the archetypal Fairy Tale hero: strong, handsome, charismatic, determined to save the Damsel in Distress and overthrow a mad tyrant. He became king, married a beautiful maiden, and was beloved by the people. Then he grew up. Over a decade later, he cannot come to terms with the events of his rebellion because he was entirely unsuited to be king. He has degenerated physically and morally like the king he overthrew by the time the story begins.
- Tywin Lannister is a deconstruction of the Evil Overlord. He is brutal and ruthless, but he's a also genuinely talented politician and administrator. The years under his rule were some of the most peaceful in Westerosi history. He rules the way he does because he was haunted by the memory of his kind, but weak father nearly ruining their house because no-one respected him. His own personal life is in tatters and all of his children hate him, though.
- Daenerys Targaryen is a typical "raised in exile to avenge their family and retake their rightful throne" heroine. Expect she doesn't fully understand what happened all those years ago that led to her family's dethroning, has only a vague idea about what's being going on in Westeros since then, and her conquest gets put on hold when she has to face the consequences of raising an army of freed slaves.
- Jaime Lannister and several characters around him deconstruct the Knight in Shining Armor. Jaime had to break his oath to protect the king to honor his oath to protect the innocent and was reviled for it. His childhood heroes, the Kingsguard of Aerys II, were immortalized despite going along with their liege's atrocities. The knights he current works with are almost all glorified thugs who ascended to their current positions because of politics.
- Cersei Lannister shows us what would happen to the vain and beautiful Evil Queen/Wicked Stepmother of a fairy tale if the story isn't a simple fairy tale. And, how such a woman could be created in a world where a woman trying to gain power is decidedly frowned on, regardless of their personal morality, place of birth and/or ability. And, so has to reach for any method she can get her hands on. Not. Pretty.
- The Night's Watch deconstructs The Chosen Many. The Watch has gone from a hallowed institution to a joke because the ancient evil it was supposed to fight has not been seen in thousands of years. Furthermore they've become an army of crooks and exiles because no one highborn wants to throw away their lifestyle for a miserable existence in the icy north with nothing but duty to live for day to day. Its gotten to the point that Ramsay Bolton has taken up arms against the Watch, violating its vow of neutrality.
- House Targaryen is what happens when a bunch of people act like the typical race of fantasy High Elves.
- The Ironborn, Dothraki and Wildlings/Free Folk show the realistic consequences of living in a Proud Warrior Race society. It's a brutal and often short life weighed down by the impracticality of constant warfare.
- Lord Paetyr Baelish deconstructs the Rags to Riches hero. He runs away after failing to win the hand of the woman he loves, makes a fortune and gains a position in government, then triggers a civil war to become the most powerful lord in the land, seemingly to prove he can rise to greatness without using brute strength which Westerosi society values most of all.
- Ned Stark and Jon Snow are both The Everyman, who use their simple values and common sense to rise above the petty political games and corruption surrounding them to save the realm. It doesn't go well.
- Tyrion Lannister is a dig on the Dwarf stereotype in high fantasy. He and others with his condition are treated as freaks.
- Stannis Baratheon is seen as the Big Bad. He lives in an Evil Tower of Ominousness, his army is composed of pirates, sellswords and bannermen of questionable loyalty, his zealous pursuit of justice makes him come off as ruthless and his consorting with an Evil Sorcerer gives him a truly sinister reputation. Yet his Hidden Depths makes him seem like the exact kind of king Westeros needs.
- A Hero of Our Time deconstructs Byronic Hero in Pechorin: a brooding, selfish outcast from high society who inadvertently brings ruin to everyone he meets, especially the women who fall in love with his romantic persona.
- Discworld has a few of these, since Sir Terry Pratchett's brand of humour is largely based on taking something seriously that was not intended to stand up to it.
- Cohen the Barbarian is something of a deconstruction of a Barbarian Hero; Sir Terry wondered what happened when Conan got old, and realised he'd have to keep doing it, even if his back was going and he'd lost all his teeth.
- Moist von Lipwig, when he first appears in Going Postal is a deconstruction of a Lovable Rogue, who requires quite a lot of Character Development to actually become lovable; he's initially a callous user who sees people as things (the ultimate Discworld crime).
- An early Deconstruction of Knight in Shining Armor exists in Don Quixote, in which the eponymous character attempts to take up the role in an age when Knights are Deader Than Disco. Hilarity Ensues.
- "The Story of the Good Little Boy" by Mark Twain is a short story that deconstructs the "Good Little Sunday School Boy That Teaches Lessons" archetype that was popular at the time by making the protagonist try to fit the mold of the Sunday School characters, but ends up being ridiculously Wrong Genre Savvy about it all. The boys that went sailing on Sunday instead of going to church didn't drown for their wickedness, but he nearly does trying to stop them. The dog he saves attacks him. In the end he gets blown up into multiple pieces and isn't even able to deliver a Bible passage before dying or make any kind of lasting impact. His obsession with good works and Holier Than Thou attitude isn't just ineffective but literally gets him killed.
- Enderís Game is a deconstruction of the Kid Hero and Boring Invincible Hero. By the time the book ends Ender abandons Earth forever, has killed all but one of a decidedly non-hostile species that accidentally antagonized humanity before they realized we were sentient, doesn't hook up with his love interest (because, you know, he doesn't get one) and had his ass handed to him psychologically. Oh, and he accidently killed two fellow students but was never told about it, but he's smart enough to suspect it and feel guilty.
- Dan Abnett also deconstructed The Smart Guy in his Warhammer 40,000: Eisenhorn trilogy. Eisenhorn's savant, Ueber Aemos, is the walking databank he is because of a "meme-virus" he acquired that gives him a compulsion to keep gathering knowledge, culminating in memorising the entirety of the Malus Codicum and summoning a daemon in an attempt to protect Eisenhorn.
Live Action TV
- The Cowboy Cop is deconstructed with Jimmy McNulty of The Wire, who, despite being an excellent detective, allows his free-wheeling ways to cause much destruction to both his personal life and performs numerous, possibly career-damaging moves on his way towards cracking any given case.
- Despite The Glades being about a Cowboy Cop, the first episode showed somewhat realistic consequences to having an officer who tramples all over the rules and gets away with it because of his skill and talent. Specifically, his partner feels overshadowed by him, and complained about it to his wife so much it eventually destroyed their marriage. When she tried to leave him, he killed her. She's the Victim of the Week.
- Dead Like Me deconstructed Cool Old Lady in the form of Grandma Phyl who spent so many years doing "cool" stuff in foreign places that she neglected her own daughter which caused Joy to grow up anal and overly self-reliant.
- Pretty Little Liars: Alison is the deconstruction of the Alpha Bitch, to the point where her behavior gained her and her friends the disdain of 90% of the town, and she has multiple enemies in the A-team that want her dead. Her own friends have gotten fed up with her antics and are now against her. Heck, her own mom saw someone hit her over the head with a rock, and bury her alive to cover for that person! Talk about being disliked.
- God of War is a deconstruction of the classical Greek hero and Spartan archetypes: a person who is defined by using his physical strength to do whatever he wants, seeks revenge for any affront, has a "Might Makes Right" morality and has divine parentage is less likely to be a paragon and more likely to be a violent psychopath hellbent on killing his enemies - at the expense of the whole universe.
- Metal Gear deconstruct the most basic Archetype in Hollywood: the Bad Ass hero who blows bad guys to hell and gets the girl. Rather than being a hardcore larger than life hero, Solid Snake ends up becoming a traumatized mess of a man in response to the hell he's put through throughout his adventures.
- Big Boss, who Solid Snake is a clone of, takes the deconstruction even further. While we initially meet Snake as a seasoned soldier, Big Boss's first mission turns him from being a Wide-Eyed Idealist with Patriotic Fervor into a Shell-Shocked Veteran who felt that he became an Unwitting Pawn to the government when the mission's true nature was revealed to him - a petty political affair carried out to kill an innocent soldier (who served as his mentor) and ensure that the United States made off with a fortune. As such, he left the United States to start his own private military company that became involved with increasingly morally-questionable operations, which eventually led to him being branded as a terrorist in spite of the fact that his actions successfully prevented nuclear war. After his base of operations was destroyed for the first time, he became a shell of a man that decided to embrace his role as a war criminal as long as it meant he could create a Heaven for soldiers like himself - which, of course, would come at the cost of making the rest of the world a living Hell for everyone else. Interestingly enough, this would retroactively make Solid Snake, a Reconstruction of this archetype: while he's still an emotional wreck, he serves as a Knight in Sour Armor that still chooses to fight with the government because he believes that it's the right thing to do - instead of pursuing his own selfish and ultimately self-destructive goals like Big Boss - even if Being Good Sucks.
- xkcd deconstructs the "friendzoned" Dogged Nice Guy character in the strip "Friends", portraying the "nice guy" in question as an emotionally manipulative creep hoping to ingratiate himself into a relationship with the object of his affection by undermining her self-confidence and exploiting her loneliness. And in the end, the character doesn't get the girl precisely because the woman in question realizes how unpleasant he is.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is fond of deconstructing common cartoon character archetypes.
- Twilight Sparkle resembles a common Smart Girl protagonist, but her intellect and no-nonsense behaviour are exaggerated to the point of being a Super OCD perfectionist prone to mental breakdowns over the smallest slight, meaning she is just as often reliant on her friends' support as being the Only Sane Man to arguments.
- Rarity resembles a traditional snobbish young entrepreneur, but rather than crossing into Alpha Bitch territory, Rarity embodies generosity in her materialism and her ambitions and, while prone to delusions of grandeur at times, generally doesn't end up forsaking her friends.
- Pinkie Pie deconstructs the Plucky Comic Relief by often taking her comedy to genuinely obnoxious and even hurtful levels, and because she is intensely emotionally dependent on people liking her, especially her friends. Any comedian will tell you haw dangerously addictive making others laugh can be.
- Discord deconstructs the Token Evil Teammate. Though he was a former villain who underwent a Heel-Face Turn, he only went so far as becoming a Wild Card; he never really became "good", he was just friends with one of the heroes and there was the constant threat of being imprisoned again if he stepped out of line. In the Season 4 finale, with Discord trusted to capture the new villain Tirek, Tirek instead manipulates him into evil again. Celestia even lampshades they trusted Discord too much and overestimated what The Power of Friendship meant to him.
- Hey Arnold!:
- It deconstructs Purity Sue with Olga Pataki, Helga's sister. In order to keep your "pretty, intelligent, sweet, absolutely beloved young girl" image, you're likely to end up as a perfectionist, weepy, perpetually smily, dangerously out-of-reality mess who will break down to melodramatic levels the very moment something doesn't seem to fit in such a bubble of perfection, while being almost completely unable to connect with people far more "flawed" than yourself.
- It also gives us Helga Pataki herself as a deconstruction of the Tsundere trope. She's got a relationship with Arnold that looks on the surface like the typical foundations of a Slap-Slap-Kiss romance, but as we delve a bit farther into her family life we see that, along with her traumatized Purity Sue sister, she has an abusive Jerkass dad and a Lady Drunk mother, neither of which can provide much support in her daily life — if she's lucky. Looking at the show with slightly more jaded eyes, her volatile relationship with Arnold and her few friends become an increasingly obvious cry for help and an awkwardness with dealing with people nonviolently.
- The Prince of Egypt deconstructed Red Oni, Blue Oni through Moses and Ramesses, respectively, by showing the qualities associated with them evolving in positive and negative ways as they mature.