Heroes are considered to be the characters people create to fill our need for heroes. Such characters act in such situations as we find them, filling us with hope and inspiration to overcome challenging situations. Often, such heroes give us a sense of pleasure when we find out they have succeeded against all odds, and this gives us a sense of pride. We may look up to such heroes and follow their footsteps, feeling that we can do anything if only we were to become like them.
A hero is usually a main fictional protagonist, or an actual human being who, in the face of adversity, struggles through incredible deeds of strength, courage, or ingenuity. In contrast, the hero often only means to be a protagonist, meaning that he does not fulfill a prescribed role as a protagonist. In some stories, it is not even necessary to have a defined personality to qualify as a hero; what is required is to have exceptional abilities and qualities that one may have been endowed with. In a way, then, the hero becomes not merely a human protagonist, but also the epitome of excellence in one particular sphere. In most stories, the protagonist may be defined by his ability to excel above others in some given field. Such excellence is what defines a hero.
However, we need to keep in mind that the very purpose of defining a character in a story is so that the readers can relate to him, recognize his value as a protagonist, and empathize with his troubles, if only in his imagination. There is no place for real-life heroism in fantasy. For, what possible benefit could there possibly be for a protagonist who never acted in a dangerous situation? Fantasy heroes exist only in the mind.
Thus, the most essential quality of heroes is that of being able to change themselves to conquer their enemies, to help other people and to go beyond their own limits. Help students identify true courage by identifying the qualities that make up heroic behavior. Heroes learn to take risks, to lay aside personal safety, to rise above petty fears and to overcome physical challenges. In short, real heroes are not just “superior” in their thinking or actions but “deeply moral.”
A hero may be a leader, but he is more often than not also a follower. Help students see how heroes lead by example. When a heroic act is observed by the public or by a specific group of people, such as a sports team or an organization, the actions gain widespread attention and become the object of debate, scrutiny, and even admiration. For every one instance of heroism, there is at least one Oedipus hero.
The strength of heroes comes from the knowledge that all of us have the power to be heroes, to overcome our weaknesses and to make a difference in the world. Help students identify their own personal heroes. Let them step out into the arena of public debate and ask students to identify their heroes and to reflect on why they do what they do. After hearing about the personal courage of a warrior, an athlete, a leader, a scientist, or an artist, students will have new ways to think about themselves and about the world.