Heroes in Literature

Odysseus, one of the first literary heroes

Literature, like movies, has given us memorable heroes who speak to different eras in different ways.

Let’s look at heroes this week who come from the world of fiction.

Literary heroes might have a longer shelf-life than certain movie icons, because the images of books are often those of our imagination, so they are therefore more present to us.

Let’s look at a few and see what they say to us (and what they might have said at the time).

Odysseus. Homer’s hero of The Odyssey (and a character in The Iliad) is the hero driven to return home and tested by circumstance.

This archetypal hero has had great resonance through the ages – the wandering hero is a mainstay of literature – and any college student who’s read James Joyce knows how he planned his novel of a day in Dublin around the exploits of Odysseus.

Odysseus speaks to us because each of us has ingrained within us a sense of home, a need to get there, a wish to overcome odds, a yearning to return to where we feel safe – and we long for the wily resilience of an Odysseus to outwit our adversaries.

Elizabeth Bennett. The heroine of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular characters of all time, and some 200 years after the publication of this novel, it remains beloved. The reasons are simple, aside from Austen’s wonderful storytelling.

Elizabeth Bennett is an independent-minded woman (within the constraints of her time) who is both intelligent, spirited, humorous and, in a great stroke of genius, given to making mistakes about the people around her.

She learns – in the best heroic fashion – from those mistakes and errors of judgment. . Anyone can relate to a person who is honest. And a hero is above all honest and willing to admit when he or she is wrong.

What do you think? Is Odysseus a hero? Is Elizabeth Bennett?

We’ll be exploring more heroes later this week, so comment and share your opinion here …



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