Classics Club Meme #9: Heroes

20-orson-welles-theredlist

The Classics Club asks:

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

 Hmm. First of all, I would say, what do you mean by hero? I went the beloved OED to find some definitions:

1. Hist. A name given (as in Homer) to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; at a later time regarded as intermediate between gods and men, and immortal.

2. A man distinguished by extraordinary valour and martial achievements; one who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior.

3. A man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connection with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities.

4. The man who forms the subject of an epic; the chief male personage in a poem, play, or story; he in whom the interest of the story or plot is centered.

Let’s say heroines are female heroes and call it a day. They both come from the same root: protector.

(I won’t unpack the word “best” too much, but “of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality” …dictionary.com)

Obviously the answer would be very different depending on of you center on the valor/bravery/admiration part of things, or simply the protagonist of the story. My hunch is that the question does contain aspects of both definitions 3. and 4.

That being said, I’m going to twist things around and proclaim:

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Yes, Sal Paradise. Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around Rodion Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. Henry Miller, calling his protagonist Henry Miller!! in his Tropic books, in all his deeply flawed glory. Fitzgerald’s characters. Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Charlotte’s Lucy Snowe! So many of Shakespeare’s. Woolf’s sad, undulating women. Pip from Great Expectations! Just to name a few.

I don’t think it’s any accident that the historical definition includes the words superhuman, gods, and immortality. As much as I love Jane Eyre, there is the aura of fantasy about her; Bronte projected her longing for freedom and bravery into her character. We respond to it (I ask WWJD every time I get in a tangle!) but it’s very different from exploring the incredibly human, imperfect, searching, mad ones – the ones who are just like us.

(image: Orson Welles as Macbeth, via theredlist.fr)

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4 comments

    • jackiemania

      Any chance for me to use the OED — I’m there 🙂 I want to stay in school forever so I have access to the online version, although a set of my very own has been a dream since my undergrad days.

  1. Rachel

    That’s an interesting thought…I hadn’t considered Jane Eyre as being anything superhuman – she certainly was very principled and able to stick to her guns, but I think she had her faults as well….

    My April Meme

    • jackiemania

      Oh, I didn’t mean that she was a superhero or supernatural being, but that she was larger than life. A projection of how CB would have loved to live. In reality CB had to make many compromises.

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