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The Idea of a Hero in the Fiction of Barry Hannah

The concept of a hero and the characteristics that one person feels are embodied by a hero are explored in the short story ?Ride, Fly, Penetrate, Loiter? by Barry Hannah. Everyone wants to be a hero, but in reality few are. There are many people who consciously and unconsciously undermine their attempts to become a hero. Ned Maximus, the protagonist in Hannah?s story is just such a person. Ned states that he ?wants some hero for a buddy? (page 36). Hannah has definite ideas of the way a hero should act and communicates these through Ned. Ned, on the other hand, seems to act in a manner contrary to these ideas.

Ned believes that a hero should never lie, but should always be truthful. In being an honest person a true hero should be appalled by fakes and frauds. Ned, a drunk would like to believe that he is truthful but reveals himself as a liar when he states ?I have been sober ever since. I have just told a lie? (page 42). He is indeed a liar; therefore, according to his own definition he is not a hero.

In his dissertation on the qualities of a hero, Ned mentions that a true hero could possibly be a writer and he, Ned is a writer. In ?Ride, Fly, Penetrate, Loiter? Ned is stabbed in the eye by an acquaintance, Billy Six Fingers. Since this incident Ned insists that he can ?see things more clearly through his one good eye? (page 37). From this clarity Ned states that ?I will write some times and my bones will hurt? (Page 38). Ned insists that he now writes with a passion that he never had before he was able to see things more clearly. He asserts that he writes from inspiration, from what he observes and comprehends in his world. This inspiration has occurred because of the clarity with which he now views things.

Another heroic quality is the ability to love and to place someone else?s needs and desires above one?s own. The author notes this when Ned states that ?I drank and smiled and tried to love, wanting some hero for a buddy, somebody who would attack the heart of the night with me? (Page 36). Ned feels that he is capable of the love that a hero should possess but in actuality he does not possess this ability to love or place someone else?s desires above his own. Through Ned, Hannah asserts that the love of a hero should be pure and from the heart. Ned does not possess this trait and probably never will.

According to both the author and Ned, a hero is sober and virtuous. Ned certainly is not sober, he is drunk throughout most of the story and demonstrates his need of alcohol repeatedly. An example of this is seen at the hospital, ?I remember wanting a drink terribly in the emergency room. I had the shakes.? (Page 37). Ned?s need for a drink and experiencing of the shakes demonstrates his dependence on alcohol and his inability to remain sober. Webster?s definition of person who is virtuous is one that is chaste and upright. Ned is neither chaste nor upright; he talks about people being bad when he himself is not. He fires a gun into the night after being stabbed in the eye. This is not something that a hero would do.

According to Hannah, a hero possesses the qualities of honesty, sobriety, ability to love, virtuousness, and is possibly being a writer. Ned Maximus fails to incorporate these qualities into his own character, even though he wishes that he could have these qualities and be a true hero. Ned would have to make major changes in his attitudes towards people and his treatment of them. Since this is unlikely to happen, Ned Maximus will never be a shining example of a hero as described by Barry Hannah.

1.) Hannah, Barry. ?Ride, Fly, Penetrate, Loiter.? Captain Maximus. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

2.) The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.


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