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This year in British Literature, heroes and antiheroes have been a consistent and central theme. Starting with Winston Smith acting as an antihero in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, then to various other stories with heroes and antiheroes. The classic heroic character was introduced through the epic poem, Beowulf, in the version translated by Seamus Heaney. Even in works of Shakespeare, Hamlet is considered an anti hero, a figure in a story that follows a Hero’s Journey but does not have heroic attributes.
Heroes come to life when they are needed, so one would think that in a perfect place there is no need for a hero. A hero only arrives when there is a problem, or when a dystopia is formed but what usually defines a hero in a story is going on some form of the Hero’s Journey.
Every book read in class this year had a character who followed some form of the Hero’s Journey.
An anti hero is usually the main character in a story who goes on a Hero’s Journey, yet possesses little to no heroic attributes. A quick run down of the Hero’s Journey is this: Main character’s regular world, call to adventure, finding their mentor, various tests, death and rebirth, the road back, and resurrection. The most interesting thing about the Hero’s Journey is how it varies from book to book. Sometimes it goes a bit out of order, and other times it mostly follows the Hero’s Journey but completely throws the reader for a turn.
This brings up a problem with the Hero’s Journey, which is that it could potentially fit to almost any story, even ones that do not seem like a heroic story. Whatever the case, it is where the term anti hero stems from. Anti heroes are more relatable: The reader can connect with an anti hero whereas it is difficult to connect with a heroic character like Superman, or Beowulf, because of the reality that humans do not possess and have no relatable attributes to these characters. Beowulf was a good way to start the year off because the tale is known as one of the most classic heroic stories. Though Beowulf does not really possess any superhuman qualities, he is on the verge of how strong and mighty a human being could potentially be. The consistent theme throughout this year being heroes and antiheroes, Beowulf was a good example of the classic hero, versus other characters who possessed little to no heroic qualities and are therefore antiheroes. He follows the Hero’s Journey, though some parts take the reader for a turn. For example, Beowulf’s call to adventure seems to have existed much before the start of the translated epic poem.
In 1984, by George Orwell, the antihero was introduced. Winston Smith lives in his regular world, then begins to question the workings of society. His call to adventure is when Julia slips him a piece of paper, going against the rules of the society, informing him to meet her in a secret place where they can speak privately. For the first time ever, Winston Smith disobeys the society, something he would never have thought of doing in his day to day life. Julia and Winston then find their mentor, O’Brien, whom they believe to be the leader of the brotherhood. This is where the the storyline still follows the Hero’s Journey, but experiences a huge turn of events. O’Brien is really leading them into a trap.
This is the road back where all of the thoughts that Winston held against the government are demolished, and he is resurrected as a robotic citizen again. In 1984, Winston Smith was considered an anti hero. He did not possess heroic qualities, yet he was living in a dystopian world and he attempted to make a change. He was brave, and definitely gained courage as the story progressed, though he was not very strong or athletic, and carried no superhuman qualities. The reason he is an anti hero is mainly because he moves the story forward, but also because he makes a real effort to rebel against the society.
Another example of anti heroes would be David and Jennifer from the movie “Pleasantville”. They live in suburbia and their regular day to day life mainly consists of high school and watching TV. David and Jennifer received their call to adventure when the TV repair guy gives them a special, magical remote controller. The TV repair guy is the mentor in the story, yet a he disagrees when David and Jennifer showing how a Hero’s Journey can vary. Their changes are tested when the people of Pleasantville start to rebel against the color, and this makes David and Jennifer question whether or not they were right to make a change in the first place. David’s death and rebirth is when he has reached his lowest point by beating up some guys, but in turn he becomes colorful. For Jennifer it is when she rejects Skip and instead stays inside to read and study which is something she would normally never do. Whether the change is positive or negative is for the viewer to decide; however, the main characters, David and Jennifer, can be seen as anti heroes because they follow the Hero’s Journey. They do not possess qualities such as super strength, or immense bravery, yet they arrive in Pleasantville and rescue it from this monotonous life where nothing new really happens. In Pleasantville, the lives of the people were always bouncing just above the neutral feeling line. Only those who can experience real pain and real sadness can know and experience real happiness and bliss.
Pleasantville seemed to have no issues whatsoever, but the real issue was that the citizens were not truly living their lives to the fullest because the only feeling they knew was, well, pleasantness.
In Brave New World, there is an interesting shift of character focus some way into the book. Bernard Marx is the main character at the beginning of the story and lives in his regular society while starting to question society. The Hero’s Journey “call to adventure” begins for Bernard Marx and John the Savage as well when the two of them meet at the reservation where John lives. From here on out the character focus is mainly on John the Savage which is an interesting twist to the Hero’s Journey. John the Savage is definitely an anti hero because he is relatable to the reader as he looks in on the Brave New World society and how it is against our true nature as human beings. Hamlet was a very interesting story when looking at heroes and antiheroes.
Hamlet is seen as an anti hero, though to most he is not relatable: he is an anti hero mainly because he possesses no heroic qualities. Hamlet is one of the true heroic stories, driven by Hamlet’s plot to get revenge on his uncle/step father, King Claudius.
Frankenstein is interesting when looking at the central theme of heroism because Frankenstein could be considered an anti hero, while Frankenstein’s monster could also be an antihero. The two of them follow most parts of the Hero’s Journey, and both have non-heroic qualities. Most of the books read this year in British Literature had a main character who was an anti hero. The only other book that had a clear hero was Beowulf.
In the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli is a clear hero. He is a human but was raised by animals and because of this he possesses superhuman qualities. Mowgli follows the Hero’s Journey faithfully. His regular world is his normal life living as a wolf amongst the other animals in the jungle. His call to adventure is when he realizes that he is not wanted in the jungle anymore and Shere Khan wants to kill him. His mentors are Baloo and Bagheera, and Mowgli’s tests include learning lessons from Baloo the bear, learning how to survive in the jungle where Shere Khan the tiger wants to kill him, and learning who and who not to trust. Mowgli’s death and rebirth is when he becomes a bear, the way Baloo taught him to be. The Jungle Book has no big twists or turns to the Hero’s Journey, and the main character is a true hero, not an anti hero.
How thought provoking that heroes and antiheroes might not be so heroic after all. One could say that Pleasantville needed to be rescued, yet it seemed pretty pleasant in the first place and did not really need a hero. David and Jennifer were antiheroes by definition, but no one person is to say whether or not the change they made was positive.
Every main character in all of the books read in British Literature this year is considered a hero or an anti hero, but it is hard to tell whether or not their acts were heroic. Only by definition are they heroes and antiheroes. They follow the Hero’s Journey, they usually have some sort of hubris or flaw, and they have either unrelatable strengths, or are more relatable but still follow the Hero’s Journey, and may gain bravery as a story progresses. Anti heroes more common in stories and there is a question of whether or not they are truly heroic at all.
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