Friday, November 13, 2015

Greatest hero and heroine - The Classics Club Meme Reboot

Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?

I’m going to assume we’re talking classic literature because otherwise the answer is obviously Batman.

Barring the Dark Knight, I concluded there are no “hands-down” winners. Which is fine, because it gives me an excuse to write about the dilemma and how I made my choice.

I came up with four Heroines: Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Denver from Beloved, Scarlett from Gone with the Wind, and Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath.

I liked Scout; she was funny and lovable, but hardly heroic, until the very end. There is a particularly poignant moment, after Boo comes out; he asks Scout to lead him home. The adult narrator Scout recalls the incident.

Will you take me home? He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.

I put my foot on the top step and stopped. I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home.

Mr. Aurthur, bend your arm down here, like that. That’s right sir.

I loved her for that. She treated the odd, reclusive, man-child, Arthur (Boo) Radley with respect and dignity and saw to it that HE escorted HER.

And then there’s Denver. I didn’t like her early in the story, though I pitied her. But by the end she rose to the terrifying challenge and forced herself out of her own understandable phobias, all to protect her mother.

And Scarlett. She might seem an odd choice. She was spoiled, vain, and selfish. But in the flight from Atlanta, and subsequent struggles at Tara, the poor little rich girl, who had never known responsibility in her life was truly heroic in saving herself and others.

But I have to admit, these choices are probably influenced at least a bit by my admiration of feminine beauty: the beauty of innocence in Scout, the blossoming beauty of a girl becoming a woman in Denver, and of course, the full womanly beauty of Scarlett (especially envisioning Vivien Leigh).

But if I force myself to a more platonic ideal, I choose Ma Joad as my ultimate heroine. She had complete and tireless devotion to one single thing – her family. It was a battle she was slowly losing, that perhaps was hopeless, but her devotion was undaunted.

So now the heroes, I narrowed it to three: Samwise from The Lord of the Rings, Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, and Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you know how much I love The Lord of the Rings. That might make Frodo the obvious choice. I did consider him; he saved Middle-Earth after all, but I think he was more or less trapped into his role, almost fated to it, whereas Sam went out of love and devotion to Frodo. Oh, I know the narrative depicts he is forced out of fear of being turned into something unnatural, but over the course of the epic, his true motive and devotion shines through.

Sydney Carton. What do I need to say: an act of pure, unconditional, sacrificial love.

And while Sydney made the greater sacrifice, somehow I still loved Alyosha more. Alyosha’s brother Ivan, recites his famous Grand Inquisitor poem, all in attempt to outrage devout Alyosha. At the end, Ivan asks, will you renounce me for that?

Alyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.

Spiritum Christi Alyosha, Amen!



  1. Great posting! I would stretch the conventional definition of "hero" by arguing that Hazel Motes (in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood), Lear (in William Shakespeare's King Lear), Job (from the Hebrew Scriptures), and the narrator (in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick) deserve to be included among literature's great "heroes." But those choices might be more accurate reflections of my state of mind than the definition of "hero." In any case, your great posting came along at a great time for me. I needed your thought-provoking comments.

    1. Thanks RT. I'm not familiar with Hazel Motes, but I would not argue with your other heroes.

  2. I so so so agree with you about Sam! I always loved him from the start and all the way through! No devotion like his... :) I've always felt Scarlet, for all her failings, was still quite a heroine! Perhaps because I can imagine myself acting much like she did, given the same circumstances and upbringing! :) Love the comments about Scout. Haven't reread TKaM yet after about 45 years, but I need to and you've encouraged me to do that sooner rather than later! And Ma Joad...I don't have the words to adequately describe my feelings for and about her. I reread TGoW last year and was so very glad I did. It is a classic beyond classics, IMHO! Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I participated in the this meme back in 2013 and found that I couldn't really add anything to what I wrote then.

    I went with Frodo though :-)


Comments are always welcome. In fact, they make my day. You needn't sign in to leave a comment. Just enter your comment, then on the "Comment as:" drop down menu, select "anonymous".