Essays On Heroes And Heroines

African Studies Review

Description:African Studies Review, a multi-disciplinary scholarly journal, publishes original research and analyses of Africa and book reviews three times annually. It encourages scholarly debates across disciplines. The editing of the African Studies Review is supported by Five Colleges, Inc., a consortium representing Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts.

Coverage: 1970-2012 (Vol. 13, No. 1 - Vol. 55, No. 3)

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ISSN: 00020206

EISSN: 15552462

Subjects: African Studies, Area Studies

Collections: Arts & Sciences II Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection

Ideas for students, women, and other thoughtful people.

NOTE: This is not meant to be a complete or finished essay, but rather a suggestion of ideas that need to be explored and why they need to be explored.

NOTE TO WOMEN: Before I can talk about the heroes and heroines of the future, I must talk about the heroes and heroines of the past. In the old view women played a vital but supporting role. In the next 100 years I believe women will redefine heroism in terms of feminine ideals and reshape the culture and perhaps the world. And while it may seem odd, that a man would want to talk about woman as heroic figures, I welcome this evolution in the culture and the human race.

Let us return to a time when a man was a man and a woman was all woman. When honor and pride lead us to glorious victories. When a man and woman knew why they were put on this earth...

Let's take a deep breath and step back for a minute.

Civilizations have been driven, shaped and guided by their own particular myth of the hero. The future of a culture may depend on the culture's heroic ideals. The hero's story is one of wars and battles. He slays all enemies, passes all the heroic tests and the culture flourishes, rewarding him with riches, position and the woman he loves.

"From the Halls of Montezuma...we will fight our country's
battle on the land and on the sea."

Even after the cynicism of the last century, with movies like "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Mash" the conquering vanquishing hero is alive and well. Action movies make the most money at home and abroad, and we are talking about billions of dollars.

The myth of the hero seems to be a part of the human psyche. It may lead the young to self-sacrifice so that the culture can try to accomplish its goals. My father, who was a gentle sensitive man, found himself swept up in war fever in 1917 and went to Europe to "make the world safe for democracy." What he found was murder and carnage on a scale that is still hard to understand. When I asked him why, he said that he was young and looking for danger and adventure. "When you are young you welcome it," he told me.

Bob Hope introduced a beautiful young female singer
to war weary troops with these words (paraphrase):
"I thought you boys would just like to see what you are fighting for." The men yelled and hollered.

In the old myth women played only a supporting role, but were often the reason for the hero's actions. He goes through his trials so that he can win the hand of the woman he loves. The french have a saying, if you want to understand a man then "find the woman." Many a soldier in World War II could not have survived without letters from his "girl back home."

While we will still need heroes and heroines more than ever, the ideals must be changed, but they cannot just be reprogrammed. A new ideal of heroism will have to grow out of the old.

The anti-hero is one attempt to find a new mold for the hero. Anti-heroes are a modern twist. They range from Mafia bosses to vigilantes to policemen who bend the law to fit their idea of justice. The anti-hero is an individualist who is willing to take a stand against his or her culture for what he or she thinks is right. Since everyone has some major gripe about the society in which they live, most can sympathize with the anti-hero who finds an identity opposing it.

While a new kind of hero or heroine will probably have elements of the anti-hero, I do not believe that they will be anti-heroes. But I not sure what shape the new mythology should take. This is something that thinkers, artists, writers, film makers, story tellers, song writers should explore for many years to come.

Here are some of my ideas about how to give birth to a new kind of hero:

  • Because of technology and environmental problems, the world will go through a number of major changes for the foreseeable future. The roles of men and women will change drastically. Women will attain real equality and independence in the near future and will want to redefine the heroic in their own terms.
  • A number of critics view much of modern literature as a exploration of the role of men and the hero in modern society. For example. in the early part of this century, Hemingway redefined the hero in "A Farewell to Arms." He questioned blind duty to a cause and ended up abandoning it. Men have been groping for a new ideal.

    The Greeks conceived of a hero as one who was an intermediary between humans and the gods. This was the prime roll of the hero.

  • A new hero and heroine needs to be molded from the ashes of the old. The warrior code needed to be reshaped and forged again so that there is a guiding ideal consistent with the needs of today.
  • The Greeks conceived of a hero as one who was an intermediary between humans and the gods. This was the prime roll of the hero.
  • Prometheus is the central myth that has guided modern western civilization. He was clearly a tragic hero to the Greeks. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humans so they could warm their homes and smelt metal and cook food. Without fire humans would have been almost pitiful; with fire humans became the most powerful of the mortals. Zeus, who had no use for humans, was so mad at Prometheus he chained him to a rock; everyday a vulture came to peck at his liver, but since Prometheus was immortal the liver grew back so the vulture could peck it again. This myth has guided us (perhaps unconsciously) as we have stolen more and more power from the Gods and placed that power into our own hands.

  • A number of Greek Goddesses, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, were extremely powerful and may point the way to a feminine heroine ideal.
  • Women need to develop a separate sense of being a heroine which is similar to the hero, but with feminine powers and insight. A good place to start looking would be the modern women who changed the 20th century such as Margaret Sanger, Evita, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madeline Albright, Susan B. Anthony, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi to name a few.
  • The goddesses of Greek and Roman but especially those goddesses before those male dominated eras ought to be explored. Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian mythologies should be looked at.
  • A sense of battle and fighting will always be part of the hero myth. Even a nurturing hero will have to fight a battle to win over the culture to his or her point of view.
  • Men need to develop a sense of the hero which is more nurturing, more open, more independent of their buddies and less based on the protection of women.

    A sense of battle and fighting will always be part of the hero myth. Even a nurturing hero will have to fight a battle to win over the culture to his or her point of view.

  • My own feeling is that the major battle to be fought is the protection of the environment so that world will be safe for our children. The battle will be to win people's minds and to defeat short sighted interests. The hero should try to encourage a culture's sense of its dependence on the earth and sky and water around it. While this war will not have swords and swashbuckling heroes, the battle is as difficult as any ever fought and as important.
  • The new idea of heroism must come from the old. It cannot be an artificial construct. An example is the Japanese idea of a warrior of wisdom. The "warrior" now uses wisdom as his or her weapon. In chivalry and knighthood are some Western notions that do not involve physical battles but spiritual ones.

    The new idea of heroism must come from the old. It cannot be an artificial construct. An example is the Japanese idea of a warrior of wisdom. The "warrior" now uses wisdom as his or her weapon.

  • Carl Jung said that there were several levels of the hero, from the action hero (such as Tarzan), through the man of action (Hemingway), to the thinking man who acts (President Kennedy) to the thinker who can move people (Gandhi). Somehow we have gotten stuck with the first two when the society desperately needs the latter two.

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