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The Importance of Being a Hero

The Importance of Being a Hero
The Importance of Being a Hero
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Going back as far as the first known work of fiction, The Epic of Gilgamesh, heroes have been a necessity in storytelling. From Gilgamesh to Harry Potter, heroes have been the key to nearly all stories. It is possible to have a story without a hero, but they are hard to find and difficult to make interesting to the reader.
Heroes come in a variety of styles, noble, brave, tragic and anti-hero to name a few. What makes a hero in writing is a central character that drives the story through his or her action and achieves a result that either saves the day, is a sacrifice or a change such as personal growth. The reason for a hero in storytelling is to give the reader someone to identify with. Without the hero the story is just a group of characters interacting with each other like in a transcript of a tax audit.
So why does the reader need to identify with a hero, rather than a common man character? One of the best examples is James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter is a very average man in every way, yet he dreams of being a hero. He fantasizes of being everything from a fighter pilot to a super spy, always saving the day. Yet in his real life he lacks the backbone to control any aspect of it, until he is thrust into a situation where he has to step up and be the hero he dreams he can be or cower away and loose everything. Walter is a clever mirror to the reader as we all have dreams of being greater than we are in our average, everyday world.
Over the years our heroes have changed costumes, but they have all been made of similar stuff. From cowboys to space warriors, superheroes to soldiers and teachers to politicians, they all share the common goals of saving the day. Sometimes it is in preventing the evil villain from blowing up the galaxy and sometimes it’s finding a way to help the lost student pass the 10th grade. We all get behind the one who saves the day and we all want to be more like that person.
People need heroes in their fiction because they have a hard time seeing them in their own lives and even harder time being the hero they wish they can be. However there are everyday heroes that go unsung. The father that works two jobs to keep a roof over his families heads; the mother who rushes home after a long work day to make sure her kids have a balanced meal and then spends her evening cleaning the house and doing dishes with little time to herself; the big brother who defends his little sister’s honor when a boy insults her; and the girl who stands by her friend when the rest of their world turns against her. They and many more are the true heroes of reality and are all stories worth telling.