In this post my intentions are to give a brief history of heroes in Greek mythology, and to briefly highlight the traditional views of heroes and heroines. The material will also present a different way of viewing heroine, as seen through the eyes of the author Jane Austen, whom I believe has an interesting perspective on the changing heroine.
According to Greek Mythology, the age in which the heroes lived is known as the heroic age. After the rise of the hero cult, gods and heroes constitute the sacral sphere and are invoked together in oaths and prayers which are addressed to them. During the heroic age, the roster of heroes is never given fixed and final form; great gods are no longer born, but new heroes can always be raised up from the army of the dead. The hero then becomes the centre of local group identity.
The genesis of heroes from Greek mythology to early and modern forms of literature still portray male as the dominant heroic-figures. They are depicted as the center of identity in many forms of literary work. While strides are being made to promote women in traditional heroic roles, there is still a lag. Men are always seen as heroes while the women are listed as “notables” or the “damsel in distress” waiting to be saved.
In Fantasy and Fairy tale literature, the hero is celebrated for his act of bravery and his demonstration of power, to liquidate a lack. Men and other representation of maleness are often cast in stereo typical roles projecting male traits as heroes. They are the ones to enter into difficult situations to negotiate and perform the salvific act, to save the individuals through a demonstration of bravery, determination and brute strength. As heroes, they are counted upon to take care of their families, they must make critical decisions and call the shots (Marlon, in Finding Nemo ). Whatever the form of literature, in earlier and more recent times, there is no subtlety about the male hero. He is the loudest, proudest and most visible. He is dominant and almost always perform his task individually with a brilliant showcase of physical strength. He is projected as an egotistical alpha male who knows all there is to know. According to Brown, “Critics of this century, … the nature of the hero, theories of law and justice, the evolution of society— all terms we recognize culturally as masculine” (Morgan 56). In essence, the masculine brand of heroism have penetrated every facet of literary work with its various representations. He is celebrated for his strength. He is the knight in shining armour that saves the day.
There are just too many men and not enough women. Many books, children’s movies, comic books and other forms of literature that characterize men as “the hero” to look up to. Too often these depictions and portrayals of “heroes” project images that feed into the stereo-typical male attitudes. The kind of attitude that breeds arrogance, machoness, physical prowess and insensitivity. More and more women in literature are emerging in leading and dominant roles celebrating equality and diversity that women bring to the field. According to Jeffrey Brown, “Today’s young viewers (and older fans of animation) enjoy the exploits of girl heroines with increased roles in team-based shows like Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and The Kids Next Door.” Brown was keen to point out that female enjoy the exploits of ” increased roles in team-based shows” ( Brown 141). This is to say that women and men work together as equals. Some of these shows rightfully promote the idea that women are as capable as men to perform some of these roles and may even excel when cast into the role.
Brown endorses Nancy Drew’s advocacy for the female heroine. He stated that Nancy Drew has “Remained a viable enough property to warrant new books and a feature film Nancy Drew (2007), and new series such as Fearless, Undercover Girl, Spy Goddess, and Jane Blonde have also proven immensely popular with young readers.” “Add to this the teen heroines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, D.E.B.S., and Veronica Mars and you have an undeniable trend in popular culture: the young girl as action heroine” (Brown 67)
Susan Morgan in her work, Imagining Gender in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction, commented on Austen’s work. She presented very interesting points of views as to Austen’s attempts to deconstruct the traditional hero. Morgan points out that “Austen deconstructs the convention of the traditional hero through her lively heroine and she also redefines creativity.” She states that, “It is no longer a matter of natural talent, a matter of power radiating from the physical to the economic and social and artistic spheres, at its worst, Henry Crawford’s acting ability or, at its best, Mr. knightly’s quiet perceptiveness” ( Morgan 55). She further asserts that, “The masculine hero is unmasked for what he always was, a figure of dominion and its inevitable companion, destruction, a cultural and literary myth posing as a physical fact” (Morgan 55). Morgan went on to comment that, “Creativity is always a matter of intention, not of natural fact. And true creative power, the power to create one’s own life, not somebody else’s, neither dominates nor excludes. It is not masculine but feminine. And it is available to whomever would choose it, to men and to women, to Emma Woodhouse and to Harriet Smith, to Henry Crawford and to little Fanny Price” (Morgan 55)
Clearly, Austen’s fiction establishes a link between, an intrusion of, women and creativity— not as inspirations but as creators. As Trilling surmised, in Austen’s work women characters move from the roles of muse or artistic material to the role of poet, to “maker of the song she sang.” The merging of the artist and woman enters British fiction with Austen’s heroines. It recurs in novels throughout the nineteenth century, in the continuing identification of artists as women, the continuing identification of novelists with their heroines, and, most significantly, in the continuing vision in nineteenth-century fiction of creativity as a feminine value (Trilling 62)
Morgan, Susan (Author). Sisters in Time : Imagining Gender in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction.Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, (date). p55, 56.
Brown, Jeffrey A. (Author). Dangerous Curves : Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. Jackson, MS, USA: University Press of Mississippi, 2011. p 141.
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