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Non-existent True Hero
Throughout time authors have conformed the hero or ant-hero idea to fit their necessity. However through analyzing it is found a perfect hero does not exist. A flaw always exists in a character, just as there is always a flaw in a human being. Just as in reality, literature has proven the equivalent, no perfect hero exists. There is always a problem found in the hero s behavior, whether it be greed, or failure to fulfill it s expectations. From Anglo-Saxon, to Medieval and finally the Modern writers have all used the idea of a hero, or anti-hero in their literature to complete their plots. Beowulf, Chaucer s Arcita in the Knights Tale, and Huxley s John in Brave New World, all portray the traits of either a hero or anti-hero. Through three different eras the perception of a hero has changed, From a heroic chivalry knight, to a modern man with the courage to fight conformity and strive for individualism. In each characters plot some flaw can be found in their actions or personality which lead the reader to believe they are not a perfect hero or anti-hero. Critics and Historical proof all agree flaws are to be found in these three individuals.
The perception of the hero by the author of the literature has changed through out the three eras. When Beowulf was written over fifteen hundred years ago, a hero was perceived as a heroic chivalric knight. The idea of a warrior leaving his people to fight over sea battles and return home alive appealed to the audiences at the time. In modern literature a barbaric man such as Beowulf could be looked down upon for his conformist chauvinistic, prejudiced life style. Modern society perceives a hero as the character who is able to fight against the conformities and prejudices of society and has the bravery to bring about change in society. Unlike the Aglo-Saxon hero who fought and killed to maintain their society, modern heroes struggle to bring about change.
The hero in Anglo-Saxon times was treated with admiration. Everyone wished to attain the veneration of the hero. Similar to the changes in the way the hero was perceived it was also changed in the way it was treated. Earlier writers such as Beowulf s creator and Chaucer treated the hero with respect. Beowulf the strong fighter and honorable leader was considered the symbol of what all men of that time wanted to be. Arcita was a hero considered a hero as he died fighting for a cause. His life was not as glorified as Beowulf despite that Arcita was still admired, as he was a knight who fought for a cause. From Chaucer s time to Huxley s the treatment of the hero dramatically changed. Bernard, our modern hero, is an outcast of society. He is not normal nor can conform to ordinariness. Other characters treat him poorly and do not understand him. This dramatic change occurred over time with the development of society.
The protagonist male, to the love sick knight, and finally the non conformist, the hero has evolved. A hero has always been maintained under the same idea of a character who holds maintains some of the same qualities; courage, sacrifice, and devotion. However through changing society the way the hero has been perceived and treated has changed. During the Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval time periods when society viewed their culture as the best there was. The hero was a person who fought to prolong their culture. However in modern civilization authors witnessed so much despair and unhappiness happiness they believed would be brought through change. The character that became admired were those who were willing to fight out against the conformities of society and bring about the change.
All three literary works Beowulf from the Anglo-Saxon time period, Chaucer s The Knights Tale from the Medieval Time period, and Aldous Huxley s Brave New World from the modern time period each contain a character very similar in their idea of the character. Each character embodies the characteristics of a hero; a person well known for accomplishments of courage or sacrifice in his lifetime. Both Beowulf and Arcita are the traditional hero, as they both by risking their lives for a cause. However Bernard from Brave New World personifies the traits of the anti-hero as he fails to reach his potential through his own mind not through death or any other extenuating circumstance. All three heroes/anti-heroes contain a flaw. None of the heroes are perfect. From Anglo-Saxon time to Modern every hero is literature contains a flaw. A trait which makes it clear that no perfect hero exists in literature.
The Character of Beowulf, the main protagonist of the epic Beowulf, is perceived and being a larger than life character. His motivation appears to be pure because he is not seeking to gain anything by his victories. However a closer look reveals that Beowulf may be seeking fame. The Good Fighter, the hero, the man who wins the most precious of all treasures, fame, is the man who never gives up and who does not worry about the possible consequences of bravery. (Beowulf)
Three important battles occur through out the epic, the first and second are justified. Grendel is descended from Cain, he is called God s adversary (786) Beowulf goes to battle Grendel to wreak revenge for Grendel s previous killing of thirty men from Heorot. Because Grendel is opposed to god Beowulf s victory is considered heroic goodness over evil. Grendel s Mother then killed one man to avenge her sons death. Because of Grendel s Mothers action Beowulf is justified in killing the creature because she is a threat. In Beowulf s third encounter his actions become less justified. The dragon had remained quiet for three hundred years until a slave stole a cup from his sacred treasure. His retribution is in kind for he destroys property as the result of the theft of property. Unlike Grendel and his mother the dragon is a creature of god, as it is washed out to the sea a sign of it being taken by god when it has died.
Beowulf is over confident in his own strength, and also excessive concern for praise of his feats he accomplishes Excessive Pride, Which seperates man from Gad is the greatest sin ( ) Beowulfs excessive pride is seen as a heroic fault in the plot. Beowulf s motive to fight the dragon was to capture the treasure a materialistic object which be believed he could accomplish on his own because he was overly confident in his bodies decreasing strength. The arrogance which first appears in the later parts of Beowulfs life time become obvious when Beowulf makes known his eagerness to see the treasure in his last hour.
The heroic society depicted in Beowulf and in the Anglo-Saxon is based on a system of ideals; courage, strength and loyalty. He is treated as a super human similar to possessing divine excellence. His character appears immortal through much of the epic. The descriptions of Beowulf s magnificent funeral concludes the story of a great hero in a fitting way. No matter what the events were that led up to Beowulf s death it is undeniable that Beowulf had been a great king to his people and a great warrior. The final words of the poem belong to Beowulfs comitatus, and so Beowulf s followers/Rode, Mourning their beloved leader,/Crying that no better king had ever ,/lived, no prince so mild, no man/So open to his people, so deserving of praise. (LL. 1778-3182 Beowulf) These words used to end the poem give the reader a final idea of how the hero known as Beowulf was treated. Beowulf s death will bring the termination of the kingdom of Geat s, and end to their way of living.
The events and way that Beowulf as a hero is perceived and treated in the literature is influenced by what was occurring at the time which the poem was written. Beowulf is most likely the oldest English-language text. The poems earliest surviving copy was written down about A.D.1000. The story was most likely told orally for six hundred year before that. During this time period Britain was invaded and settled by tribes from Scandinavia and Northern Europe. These invaders brought and introduction of Christian beliefs to the pagan society. With the invasion Rome abandoned the province of Britain and left the small tribes to fend for themselves against the invading crusaders. One of the small tribes that survived was the Tribe of Danes, written about in the poem.
Next to nothing in known about the poem s author. The poem was composed approximately between A.D. 400-950. The use of several conventional poetic devices suggests it was an educated person. The clear references to God such as in the story of Cain and Abel from the bible suggests that the person was a Christian rather than a Pagan. Because Britain was changed from Paganism to Christianity in 597 by Pope Gregory it is my belief the poem was written after this time period.
Because critics do not know much about the author of the poem it is hard to analyze what the author means in a lot of situations. Was the author taking the battles to another level representing the enemies as biblical evils to but Beowulf on a God like platform as his character eliminated the evils in the world. Or was the author simply eliminating natural threats? No matter what the creatures represented it is still seen that Beowulf fell as a hero. He failed in his final attempt, his pride was his worst attribute. individual desire for glory became an increasingly dangerous motivation as a man s responsibility for leadership grows. Even with out such a desire, a leader s excessive reliance on personal strength can easily bring calamity (Thompson) with these words we understand that Beowulf challenging that dragon was his worst decision as it brings a calamity to his society, and gives him a fault as a hero.
Similar to Beowulf, Chaucer s hero in The Knights Tale has many of the same characteristics. Both Arcite and Beowulf are fair and virtuous men. Both also seem to lack emotions. These similar characterisitcs are partially due to the fact during both the Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval time periods the idea of a hero was fairly similar. During the medieval time period a Knight such as Arcite would be admired. The Tale commends bravery in war, gallantry, courtesy, glory and honor, all traits that are valued in a hero. The Chivalric code of conduct begins to be seen in the medieval writings. When Arcite comes across Palamon in the forest and they decide to dual. He brings him food and armor before the duel. This is in accordance with the chivalric code of conduct, a code a true hero would follow.
Arcite is very poorly in the beginning of the story. Even though he has come from nobility, both him a Palamon are thrown in jail, due to their association with Thebes. Because Arcite breaks the positive law which would allow for Palamon to have Emelye and for Arcite to back off. Palamon treat Arcite very poorly. He shows that his desires were more impornat to him than his relationship with his brother. Palamon confronted Arcite with I loved her first and told my grief to you/as a brother and the friend that swore. To further me as I said before Arcite responded with What do I car? Suppose you loved her first haven t you heard the old proverbial that said who ever bound a lover by law? Love is law unto myself (Chaucer) When arcite prayed to Mars all he cared about was victory unlike Palamon who said nothing about victory only about winning Emyle. Both of their fates isinevitable if both god are going to make the men happy.
Renaissance humanism arose suddenly during the second half of the fourteenth century in Italy, whence it spread north and west throughout Europe ejecting all things barbarous and medieval, or so it used to be said. This new humanism stood for the revival of man s ancient rational freedoms, his freedom to act for himself within nature and society, his freedom to change things if he wished to make them better. This movement is seen in the was Chaucer allowed Arcite to go after what he wanted, even though he was breaking a code of honor. The Crusades which were military expedition undertaken during Chaucer s life to recover the holy land from the Muslims also created the high respect of the knights. This respect set up the code of behavior for knights which made them so well respected. This aspect enabled Arcite to attain his label as a hero, because we was an honorable man and also died fitting for a cause.
Chaucer s life played a great influence in his style of writing. His father had fought a chivalry knight in the early years of Chaucer s life. Because of the respect he gained for his father the knight was a respected character in his writings. His family was very strict and ethical. They pushed him to have high morals and ideals. These ideals also show through in Chaucer s writing as he has high respect and places character with high morals such as those in the Code of chivalry on a pedestal. This is partially why Arcite achieves Hero statue. Through Chaucer s job as controller of custon s he grew a great general knowledge of Fance s and England s court systems and their people. He was able to take this knowledge of the lifestyles of different people and apply it to his stories. Chaucer had his share of office work as Comptroller of the Customs and as Clerk of the Works, but even in these positions he was in contact with a great variety of human beings. He was in close contact through out the whole of his life career with the brilliant international courts of two kings (chute)
The one Knowable law, the only law that human beings can count on, is positive law-law which has been formally agreed to, imposed, legislated, made known, or written down. This is the reason for Palamon s strenuous insistence that Arcite fulfill what he (Palamon regards as the terms of the positive oath of brotherhood bewteen them, and oath which Arcite made freely and is therefore justly obligated to honor, and this is the reason for Palamon s moral outrage when Arcitate, placing love about positive law refuses to stop loveing the women Palamon loved first . (Roney) In Arcitates decision to break the positive law he become im-perfect. A perfect hero would honor thy code. evil is choosing not to do what one in obligated to do. This describes Arcite s behavior exactly; he is choosing not to observe the oath into which he willingly entered. (Roney)
Both Beowulf and Arcitate are incomplete characters. They both lack a depth in emotions, and appear vain. At the same time they both fail in reaching their ultimate goals. Beowulf does not defeat the dragon on his own. And although Arcitate does win the dual he does not survive to claim his prize. Beowulf fails while trying to attain the treasure out of greed. And Arcitate dies over something he had no right to in the beginning. Both of these failures are a result of their character fault as a hero. Therefor both of these characters have proven to have faults. Neither of these character can be said to be perfect hero s because flaws exist in both literary characters.
Unlike Beowulf and Arcite who are considered heros, Bernard in Aldous Huxley s Brave New World is considered to be an anti-hero. Bernard contains many of the heroic qualities however fails to succeed in anything he attempts. Arcite and Beowulf both failed when they died trying to reach their goals. Bernard looses his chances of becoming a hero when he simply settles for less than he is capable of achieving.
Bernard has a chance at the hospital to become a heroic character. However as Helmoltz throws himself into the fray upson arrival Bernard hesitates. His hesitation reflects the conflist between his desire to fit into the World State social system and the desire to chance the way it works. He fears associating himself with the non-conforming blasphemy of John s revolutionary cry and Helmholtz s support of John s actions. If Bernard was able to stand up for his beliefs and support John completely he would be considered a hero. However in his failure he brings out his flaw. His in ability and incapability to fight for what he believes is right.
Bernard is treated poorly in his community because he is divergent from many of the other people in his social class. He is short and physically inadequate for the status of Alpha-Plus, and therefore has an inferiority complex. He is more independent thinking as a result of feeling separate. This independence brings about isolationism from society. With the isolation Bernard creates he has time to think about a changed society and what changes he could bring about. Once Bernard has john (the savage) he uses him to his advantage to hold parties. He takes his fame and actually speaks out against how society could be changed for the better. Any important flaw in Bernard s character however is that he enjoys the conforming society when he is popular in it. The time that he seaks reform are when he is unpopular and out of place. Bernard emerges as a shallow and selfish character who is self-absorbed. This selfishness is out of place in their society where individuals are subordinate to social stability. Therefor in his selfishness he actually removes himself more form society.
before he was able to refuse soma, he now uses it when feeling depressed. He is thus showing signs of being unable to completely extricate himself from the ideals of the society. This is a sign on Bernard slowly declining from his potential he appeared to have in the beginning of the book. At the hospital when Helmholtz joins in with John the savage at fighting the Bolshevik and throwing Soma out the window Bernard hesitates, Ford Help this! Said Bernard and averted his eyes (Huxley). In Mustapha Monds office we see the complete fall of Bernard and the transfer of Helmholtz to an individual. Because Bernard is worried for his own good will he fails to take action.
The writing of this eras writers (including Hexley) were very much influenced by the events occurring around them. Huxley lived through a great depression, the First World War that devastated Europe, and was beginning to see the workings of another world war brewing in Europe. With all horrific events people were scarred man kind would be responsible for its own devastation. Brave New World is a political novel tied closely to its historical context. The Great Depression has begun; the horrific specter of World War I still loomed. (Bryfonski) Huxley s novel was a warning to mankind of what could happen if we did not change the way things were presently happening.
Throughout Huxley s lifetime he experienced much despair and unfortunate events. An Event that marked Huxley was his mother s death from cancer when he was 14. This he said later gave him a sense of the transience of human happiness. (somaweb) If this wasn t enough Huxley had to deal with a two-year period of blindness in his teens due to drug experimentation. Shortly following this period of his life his brother committed suicide. Human suffering was not something unknown to Huxley. He was a hard worker and went to Oxford on scholarship. Following his graduation from Oxford he found dwelling at the Garingstons. A Family friends place where he enjoyed the company of many intellectually stimulation people who inspired his first four novels. From the fears and theories he acquired at the Garingston s he developed his theory on self destruction portrayed in the novel Brave New World. He perhaps was much similar to the character of Bernard. He was a smart individual who new what was happening around him. He avoided the draft however and feared World War One while it happened around him.
Brave New World is an example of a satire. Everything that occurs is a demonstration of how Huxley believes things should not be. Bernard s character is very satiric because he is an example of an ant-hero. He is a person who you would probably prefer not to be. The world will come to an end unless individuals are able to stand up against it and fight it. Bernard is an example of this type of person however you must succeed unlike Bernard who was too weak. While only a few characters learn the depravity of their society s values, one of the novel s chief rhetorical strategies is to make all readers recognize what a few characters can comprehend: that preserving freedom and diversity is necessary to avoid suffering the repression fostered by shallow ideas of progress. (Riley)
Everyone character that has been discussed has failed. They are unable to reach their full potential before either death or fear overcame them. If the hero lost perfection by failing or if by failing the hero s life is completed is questionable. In order to die in honor, one of the best ways to go out would be fighting in battle. Which both Beowulf and Arcitate did. Jast as in Reality, literature has proven the equivalent, no perfect hero exists. There is always a problem found in the hero s behavior, whether it be greed, or failure to fill its expectations. Beowulf, Arcitate, and Bernard all failed because none attained every one of their goals, or the goals that the reader has set for them. In failing to accomplish these they prove no true hero exists.
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