In literature or fiction, a naive hero is a protagonist, usually the narrator, who misinterprets events throughout the work for ironic and sometimes humorous purposes. Through characteristics like innocence, ignorance, and stupidity, the naive hero misses the structure of the plot while the audience clear knows what is going on. Likewise, the hero's opinions and perceptions become faulty and untrustworthy.
There are many famous examples of naive heroes:
- Harry Potter - Everyone's (least) favorite magical prodigy, Harry Potter, becomes a stereotypical naive hero through his childhood innocence. The irony in his stories is that he is able to solve the great mysteries (Who stole the Sorcerer's Stone?! Where's the Chamber of Secrets?! What became of Russian Hopscotch in 1787?! ) with his puny child intellect and heart while his elder rivals and foes end up turned into frogs and pies and whatnot. Harry's lack of understand of what's going on is especially evident in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.
- Dudley Do-Right - The gracious mountie's naivety comes from his
Canadian nationality stupidity. Riding around on Horse (his horse's name) in his goofy hat, Dudley never can quite grasp what's going on. Usually, he resolves whatever conflict is at hand through an act of sheer serendipity. Humor is the intended goal with his character.
- Forrest Gump - The slow thinking, fast moving Southerner is one of the most popular examples of a naive hero in modern times. There are plenty of great scenes exhibiting humor through his naivety. In one, Forrest, unable to comprehend the significance of talking to a US President, responds to JFK's query "How do you feel?" with the classic line, "I gotta pheea..."
- Lemuel Gulliver - The narrator of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is arguably the best known naive hero in English literature. Gulliver blindly ventures through politically charged fictional lands like Lilliput and Houyhnhmn. Swift's intentions were to show different facets of human nature through the inhabitants of each land. Gulliver's confusion adds to the political and social critique by becoming the core source of irony.
- Tommy Pickles - The childhood innocence and lack of understanding it implies is present in the year old Rugrat and used mostly for humor value. Despite the fact that little Tommy doesn't understand the truth of many conflicts in his episodic adventures, his toddler bumblings end up in triumph anyway. For example, when the electricity goes out, he believes opening the refrigerator will restore the power. Hence, he goes on a quest to open the menacing white door in his darkened home. Ironically, his father, Stu Pickles, fixes the circuit breaker the exact moment he opens the fridge.
As an interesting side note, I realized as I wrote this that many naive heroes are perceived as likable. Through their goofy flaws and ignorance, they present such a backwards narration that people end up sympathizing for them, and ultimately liking them.
Source: Murfin, Ross. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston, MA: Beford, 1998.