Three years ago I came very close to having to say goodbye to one of my family members. In the warm summer of 2015, I received a chilling call from my mother that explained how my cousin had been viciously attacked and stabbed by a woman she had known. This heartbreaking experience has impacted my family and I deeply, but through it all we’ve come to a realization that my cousin is indeed a hero. She is a hero because she fought back even after all the trauma she had endured. She did not let the woman get away with this heinous crime; instead, she relentlessly reiterated to the courts that the woman is extremely dangerous to society, until after three lengthy years her justice was served – the woman was charged with attempted homicide along with many others and shall do her time behind bars. The entirety of seeking justice is not simply done in one fell swoop; it is a process that can take days, months, or even years. A hero pertains to the justice system in that they possess a great quality of determination in taking action to help protect society. As Haile Selassie once expressed, “ Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted…the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph” (“Goodreads”). It is very significant when a hero takes their own steps in to help detect the perpetrator for what they have done and proceed to take action with an end goal to deliver justice. Yes, a hero can take on many different forms but there is one common characteristic amongst every single one of them and that being: a hero’s actions are driven by their own desire to seek justice for the victims.
The concept of justice varies from one person to the next as does the concept of a hero, but the development of a hero over the course of centuries has grown to expose the one great characteristic they all possess – the mental state that whoever has done wrong to society must face consequences. To further expand upon this idea, the traits of a hero have changed drastically from the influence of beliefs and customs of different time periods. In the Anglo-Saxon Era, the first epic poem to be written in English – “Beowulf” – presents the epic hero with superhuman strength and a well known warrior who is undefeatable in battles against supernatural beings (Renner, “ Unit 1: Heroes and Anti-Heroes”).The author used the traits of a hero described in that time period to develop and embody Beowulf’s character. Throughout the piece, the epic hero is a character whose traits are directly correlated to his heroic actions. The author of the poem is thorough and consistent in convincing the reader that his character is a typical hero pertaining to that time period from the beginning of the poem all the way to the end. By introducing his character with the personal statement, “ I swam in the blackness of night, hunting monsters…killing them one by one,” it entices the reader of this magnificent character who is very courageous and brave – as a hero should be ( “Beowulf” 156-157). The key aspect of Beowulf’s character is that he does not use his strength for evil but for good. The strong savior of Hrothgar’s kingdom, destroys Grendel : the vicious beast that has been torturing the townspeople for 12 agonizing years. His whole entire motive behind this course of action was not to benefit himself as a victorious warrior but to end the suffering of the people by serving justice through killing the one thing that has been suppressing them for far too long. He traveled from his
“far-off home” to honor Hrothgar’s people by sucking the life out of the murderous monster along with its mother and this in itself is a significant piece that further emphasizes that Beowulf will use all of his power to ensure the justice that they all are so deserving of. One act that undoubtedly symbolizes justice is when the strong warrior delivers the head of Grendel to the mead hall(“Beowulf”, 51). This proves that the hero was successful in freeing the people of the mead hall from constant fear of being viciously murdered in their sleep. The courageous hero doesn’t stop there, at the end of this old great poem Beowulf sacrifices his life to save his home and his kingdom from the fire breathing dragon. Before he takes his last breath he delivers a long speech to Wiglaf that expresses how he is satisfied with the life he has lived, for having the opportunity to wear the glorious crown for fifty years and saving the lives of so many people (“Beowulf,”56-57). Despite his old age, the warrior will never let his people down – he will fight until there is nothing left in him to give and this proves him to be a noble hero. Beowulf time and time again put himself in danger in order to protect the people and this further develops the type of hero that he is. The Prince of Geats never failed to strive for the justice he believed should be served.
In instances where death and murder are present, a hero comes along and based on their moral values they act accordingly to serve the greater good – justice. The different qualities of a hero affects their way of approach to the situation and this is evident in the great tragedy: Hamlet by William Shakespeare. This piece of literature was written during the Renaissance Era which helped qualify several aspects of the tragic hero, Hamlet. During this time period, the
“ideal man was a man with three main features: a scholar, poet, and gentleman” which is incorporated into Hamlet’s attributes ( Renner, “Renaissance Era: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet). One key piece of this era that really stood out in the author’s development of the drama was the voyage of self-discovery. Throughout the play, Hamlet has several soliloquies that gives the reader insight into his mental state and his sense of trying to recognize who he actually is as a person. In act 2 scene 2, Hamlet is questioning if he is actually able to seek justice for his father’s murderer – Claudius, the King of Denmark – and decides that in order for him to go through with the act he must prove that he is guilty first (Shakespeare, 58-60). This allows the reader to grasp a deep understanding on how Hamlet views himself ; he is doubting his ability to act and is very indecisive on when he will go about his intentions. This ultimately reveals one of the five characteristics of Aristotle’s tragic hero known as Hamartia (tragic flaw).
Although this flaw is presented, the Prince of Denmark is still a genuine hero and a scholar because he wants to know for certain he is killing the man who committed the murder and not one who is innocent which proves that he is very wise in the fact that he wants to seek justice properly. There is another instance where he has the opportunity to kill Claudius when he is praying but he takes a step back from the situation and realizes that he would be sending the criminal straight to heaven when he should go to hell for what he has done (Shakespeare, 85-86). After long strenuous efforts to catch King Claudius at the right moment, Hamlet finally went through with killing the man who took his father away so unexpectedly.
However, in the midst of the fight Hamlet was wounded with poison and he faced death shortly after. The hero was willing to die in order to honor his father’s death if that meant the tyrant could never commit such a horrific crime again. The main motive behind killing Claudius was to seek justice for his father’s death, but it was also way more than that. He was seeking justice for his mother that was seduced into a relationship with a toxic man, and most of all for the people of Denmark who were under the ruling of a selfish deceiving criminal. The determination that a hero has to save the people from such evil is like no other, for they put themselves in a dangerous circumstance that could result in death, but that doesn’t stop them from doing what is right.
The Postmodernist era expressed the purpose of a hero was to still spread justice, however it was a point in time where in literature the concept of a hero drastically changed from having high social status or of noble birth, to the ordinary man as presented in the novel In Cold Blood. During the beginning of Postmodernism, people had the belief that “reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually” which is how Truman Capote developed the characters (Andreason, “Postmodernism”). The nonfiction piece is structured by rotating between the perspectives of the characters realities – from the detective of the case (Al Dewey) to the murderers (Dick Hickock and Perry Smith). Capote strategically places it this way to make sure he got every side of the story (even the criminals) and not just one because as we know there is never just one side to a story.
Detective Al Dewey is portrayed as the hero in this true crime novel for he worked endlessly to detect the persons guilty of the crime and declare justice to the Clutter family. The case took a toll on him mentally and physical to the point where, “…he was emaciated: and he was smoking sixty cigarettes a day,” but that did not stop him from catching the men who took four innocent lives (Capote, 165) . This develops the hero as a man who will put himself through hell if that means finding the two criminals before they strike again. A hero as depicted in postmodernist times is someone who will put the wellbeing of others before themselves and that is exactly what Dewey did whilst investigating the murder case. Once the two killers were placed under arrest, the detective’s main priority was to get justice for each member of the Clutter family by having both men found guilty of each crime and sentenced to death.
Six years after the trial, Dewey finally got to see the execution of the infamous Holcomb serial killers and revealed the idea that “capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime, and he felt that if ever the penalty had been earned, the present instance was it” (Capote, 340). This insight into how Dewey feels towards finally getting to see justice be served right in front of his eyes allows the reader to conclude that although his work is done here there is always more he can do to continue to ensure the security of the people. A hero should always be someone who will never stop trying to make the world a safer place to live.
There is always room for improvement in our society but the most important factor that should be the central point of focus is our ability to serve justice. The three pieces of literature have helped paint a picture that our society is lacking the sense of protection we so desperately need from the criminals. In all of the narratives the universal theme is indubitably good versus evil, and in all three circumstances the good overruled the evil….but that is not always the case. There are instances where criminals do get away with their crimes but it is up to every individual to do their part in helping to stop this occurrence from happening. In order to create a safer world, we can use more heroes like the ones described in Hamlet, “Beowulf”, and In Cold Blood. A hero can be a person who stands up for someone who is being bullied at school, a police officer who gets a drug dealer of the streets, a teacher who rescues a child from a battered home, or a doctor who saves a person that is having a heart attack. Heroes come in many different shapes and sizes, it’s not a matter of being rich or poor but it’s a matter of what is within them and how they contribute towards the safety and justice for others. It is in no way easy, but it is truly worth the blood, sweat, and tears put in. Justice is not given but earned through hard work, determination, and sacrifice. If everyone takes the one step towards achieving justice then it can make all of the difference in the world.
- “Beowulf.” The Language of Literature, edited by Arthur N. Applebee et al, McDougal Littel, 2002, pp. 32-60
- Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. Vintage Books, 1994.
- Duignan, Brian.“Postmodernism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/postmodernism-philosophy
- Renner, Brenda. “Renaissance Era: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” AP Literature & Composition, Carrick High School, 31 August 2018, Carrick High School, Pittsburgh, PA. Lecture.
- Renner, Brenda. “Unit 1: Heroes and Anti-Heroes.” AP Literature & Composition,Carrick High School, 11 September 2018, Carrick High School, Pittsburgh, PA. Lecture.
- Selassie, Haile. “Haile Selassie I Quotes.” Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/ quotes/290203.Haile_Selassie_I
- Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1958.
- “What Is a Modern Hero in Literature?”Reference*, https://www.reference.com/ art-literature/ modern-hero-literature-394e6a9e2199c133