Each generation has had its fair share of heroes, whether a living man or a legend. The one common component of all this heroes has been that they are people ready to give up their own comfort to help others, willing to go beyond the simple call of duty as human beings. To the American hero then, society or something other than himself or herself is more important. The American hero is synonymous in that he has rejected societal norms, rules and limitations as related to his life or the community within which he lives. Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, gave the world the type of hero known as Byronic. Synonymous with romance, the Byronic hero is one who is sophisticated, charming, intelligent, bipolar, cynical, cunning, seductive, mysterious and arrogant. He is an outcast, a deliberate rebel who is unwilling to follow societal norms. His is attractive to women who are drawn to his deep complicated personality, secret past, charm and hidden conflicts. There are many examples of a Byronic hero, but perhaps the easiest to relate with is the James Bond character. The hero is a representation of something deep and universal, a symbol of ultimate self-awareness.
A true hero is one who is all this in a package, for a period that is longer than what is referred to as a ‘heroic moment’ which could be driven by pure adrenaline and not necessarily heroism. The reluctant hero is different from the Byronic hero because the former requires something higher, an inspiration other than him, to be spurred into action. This particular genre of a hero is distinguished by the period of doubt before a decision is made to save someone or the world. Spiderman, for example, is a modern reluctant hero because he is not as confident in his abilities as one would expect. The earlier Germanic hero was concerned about his reputation and almost obsessed about fame. The synonymous Germanic Hero is driven by the need for revenge and is more of heroism than tragedy and more societal as opposed to being individualistic.
How Do Heroes Come about?
In the middle of a crisis, whether personal or on a national scale such as the 2 World Wars or the 9/11 attack on World Trade Center, the nation needs unifying factor. While some like the president are only performing their call of duty, the firefighters who walked into a crumbling building, or soldiers who left the trenches where they were comfortable and safe to save someone in the battle lines are true American heroes. There are many things that spur a hero, the relevance of which depends on what genre of a hero he belongs. The Byronic and Classical heroes are driven by their own personality and desire to save the world. One could even say they have an innate ability to link their own personality with the needs of the world. Similarly, the Germanic Hero is driven by a desire to get more famous (Dundes et. al 34). On the other hand, the reluctant hero must be spurred by an even or something higher than just the simple desire. Reluctant heroes in mythical legends were driven by fights with the supernatural, fighting with themselves and gods to try to keep their involvement at a minimal.
Why Are Heroes Important?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hero as a person admired for noble qualities, great courage or achievements. In a time when villainy is almost a virtue, a hero offers optimism, chance, faith and hope and becomes a symbol of love and romance. To pick a hero depends on which side of the argument one is looking at it from. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were heroes to the civil movement and perhaps to most, if not all, of America today. At the time, however, the rest of the nation viewed their heroic acts of bravery and persistence as ill-informed rebellion. They refused to allow themselves to be held by a century-old mentality, and followed in the dreams of a free America founded in the ideals of another American hero, Abraham Lincoln (Allison 78). President Lincoln counts as an American hero because he sort to reform the society he lived in, the society that elected him to office. Where he had grown up when racism and slavery were at their pick, he refused to be influenced by such norms and attitudes and fought for his own ideals as he instilled them into a country. Heroes inspire their admirers to do more and look within themselves for the heroic attributes. There are those who, like Albert Einstein, changed the way we view the world, and others, like Dr. Salk, who provided solutions to world problems and saved billions of lives in the process.
In the literary world, the idea of a hero is often the driving force of any good story. The only difference is that in doing so, most stories offer the hero with exceptional body strength but weak emotional stability. Society needs heroes because it needs to believe in something, or someone who believes in their own abilities or essence. The true hero should be driven by a desire to save the American society, or a need to save the world from an American viewpoint. The relevance of a certain heroic act or hero is therefore dependent on the person seeking information on a hero because of a common tendency to view the world only through one’s lenses.
Allison, Scott. Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them. Richmond: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Dundes, Alan; Rank, Otto & Raglan, Lord. In Quest of the Hero. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. Print.