Role and evolution of the hero in literature

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" 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.

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He is a strong, proud,

honored hero.

However, we also come in contact with this heroes direct counterpart whose

actions appeal to our emotions, rather than our sense of adventure. This is the

humble hero. Unlike the classic hero, he is not extremely strong, and not necessarily

handsome. His beliefs are not expressed through some miraculous feats of strength,

but rather through his ability to do the right thing. His actions often go unnoticed

and are even sometimes criticized like in Harper Lee's book, To Kill A


When Atticus Finch agrees to defend a black man in court the community

looks upon him as a "Niger lover." Even before he accepts the case, Atticus knows

people will disapprove, but he is a honest man who stands up for what he believes

in. His noble action is considered foolish and disgraceful and brings him no rewards

whatsoever, but to Atticus, justice and the gratitude of a black family are more

important than the opinion of people who prove to be " white trash." Atticus shows

a different kind of bravery. He is heroic enough to do the right thing.

The third type of hero we encounter in literature is the clever hero who uses

his mind instead of his muscles to outsmart his enemies. We encounter this type of

hero in Howard Pyle' s book, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Robin Hood

is portrayed as a fun loving character. He is not one to be considered a coward and

is a very proud sort of fellow. He attacks
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