Role and evolution of the hero in literature

Topics: Hero, Romeo and Juliet, Literature Pages: 9 (1464 words) Published: December 29, 2003
" If Hero means sincere man, why may not everyone of us be a Hero?"

(Carlyle, qtd. in Hoyt' s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations). This statement

makes heroism seem simple, but is being sincere enough to make you a hero? In

modern society, the answer is likely to be yes, but in literature, it can be


A hero in literature is generally portrayed as a man of action rather than

thought. He exceeds ordinary men in skill, strength, and courage and his usual

occupations are war and dangerous adventures. Surrounded by noble peers, he is

ruled by honor and pride and is ruthless towards his enemies. His responses are

generally predictable and his inability to decline a challenge can sometimes get him

into trouble.

The appearance of heroes in literature marks a revolution in thought that

occurred when writers and their audiences turned their attention away from

immortal gods to mortal men.("Hero", Encyclopedia Britanica). Heroes were the

first human beings in literature and where able to spark a general interest in the

audience. They risked their lives for valiant causes and created a moment' s glory

that lived on longer after they were gone. Although this was a great change, these

heroes were still very much like the gods that preceded them and in turn created a

classic picture of heroism in all of our minds.

Nearly every literary work has a hero, or a main character that we think of as

being a hero. Modern literature has come a long way since the first hero and the

standards of heroism have been severely altered. Nowadays, literature potrayes a

hero as being : the classic hero who performs great feats of strength and is always

rewarded ; the humble hero who performs tasks simply because that is the right

thing to do and is often not only unappreciated, but even criticized for it ; the clever

hero is able to outsmart his enemies without even laying a finger on them ; the

corrupted hero is usually an intellectual who abuses his powers and turns himself

from hero to villain ; and finally there is the anti-hero who performs no real heroic

tasks and is often quite cowardly, yet being the main character, we consider him a


The classic hero is a typical knight in shining armor that effortlessly saves the

helpless victim, usually being a beautiful maiden. All of us are very familiar with

this typical plot. The story of " The Three Golden Apples" is a story of a typical

hero called Hercules, who searches for the garden of the Hesperides were a tree

with golden apples grows (Hawthorn). Of course the task is not an easy one because

the tree is guarded by a dragon with a hundred heads. During the course of the

story, Hercules meets beautiful maidens that have heard of his legendary deeds, and

being the hero that he is, he tells them about all his accomplishments making the

deeds seem effortless.

During his search for the garden, Hercules is able to defeat a great giant, slay

a king that imprisons him, and tricks the great giant Atlas who holds up the sky.

Through out the story Hercules is portrayed as a handsome, brave, and incredibly

strong man who is well known for his feats. Yet, he also possesses the foolish pride

most classic heroes have from always being put on a pedestal. This is an average

young hero ruled actions not by thoughts.

Another good example of the classic hero is a character called Wesley in the

movie The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner). Like Hercules, Wesley is extremely

handsome and brave. Although not born into the role of a hero, Wesley quickly

develops this skill. He does not posses unhuman like strength, but is an excellent

swords men. He sweeps Buttercup of her feet and defends the helpless maiden

while they travel through the dangerous fire swamp. He also performs many other

heroic tasks such as defeating the giant. Perhaps the only thing greater...
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