I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a hero in today’s day and age. It’s a topic that is widely discussed with all age groups and in a time where superhero movies are no longer a cult following but more of a mainstream phenomenon, I think it’s still an important question.
The answer, however, is a bit more elusive. It changes based on the evolving norms and morals of the people who believe in a particular hero. YA novels broach the subject in a roundabout way and more and more of the novels I read, shows I watch, and movies I view showcase different heroes.
So what does it mean to be a hero? Is a hero perfect? Are they human or myth or some combination of both? Do they have different faces like Bruce Wayne and his Justice League or are they simply who they are like Tris Prior? Do they sacrifice more of themselves than necessary or hide their true nature to protect themselves and those they love? Is is about bravery or something deeper?
Is it more important for them to be seen as a symbol, a hope or someone the people can relate to or some combination of both? As I reread my novel and make edits (oh, the never-ending process!), I find myself continuously evaluating if I am sending the right message, the one that I want to say and if the words on the page are actually representative of that or if the idea is still in my head struggling to come out in the sentences.
I don’t think a hero is someone that has to appeal to every single person but I think it is someone with the power to influence large groups at once. Heroes are defined by actions (and inactions) and not just words, and I think that is important distinction to make.
I also think that heroes today have become a lot more “human” than they used to be. More than ever we are seeing normal people impact the world in extreme ways. (Okay, so that might just be in books.) And they have flaws and we love and accept them regardless. In fact, in some ways, we might even love them more for it. Plus there is the whole idea of showing more back-story and how heroes (and villains!) came to be who they are, the journeys and decisions that affected them and crafted them into the person that we now see, i.e. Maleficent, Smallville, Batman Begins, and Gotham (coming this fall to Fox).
But what about when you are reading a book and the main character suddenly finds out that the person they looked up to is not at all who they thought they were? I kind of hate when that happens. It’s like people don’t realize that their heroes are people too, imperfect, fallible ones. Strike that, I hate when the character then fully rejects the person they looked up to because they discovered that the hero was human and made mistakes in the past (even if they are trying to correct them now).
I find it very frustrating. But at the same time, I can totally see where they are coming from and aren’t sure if I could be a big enough person to move past what I saw as a huge mistake made by a hero of mine. But then you have heroes like Katniss Everdeen that are written as flawed, desperately real humans and get flak from both sides because of it.
What does it mean to you to be hero? Are there any true heroes in real life? If so, what is it about them that causes you to define them as a hero?