The heroic ideal : three views.

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Vantrease, Brenda
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Middle Tennessee State University
In the evolution from the epic to the novel, the concept of the hero has undergone a mutation which renders it obscure and has given rise to the theory that the hero is an anachronism which has no place in modern works of fiction. Terms such as "anti-hero," "protagonist," or the diminished "character" have replaced traditional nomenclature. The illusive concept of the heroic ideal is multifaceted and may be approached by many avenues. An exploration of the idea of individualism as a major component of the heroic ideal provides an appropriate means to examine the concept of the hero as developed in three works: Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. An examination of the hero as he functions within each of these works defines his role in the development of the fictional mode and testifies to his place in modern fiction.
Although Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders is a realistic novel which belongs more to the tradition of comedy than of tragedy, its heroine conforms to Northrup Frye's definition of the hero of the "high mimetic mode" in that she is superior to ordinary men in her levels of courage and individualism. In spite of the fact that she earns her living as a whore and a thief, Moll has a claim on heroism because of the fortitude with which she confronts her circumstances. In the development of this thesis, analyses of the character and personality of Moll Flanders, of the society in which she lives, and of Defoe's intent and purpose are included.
Although Emily Bronte's Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights does not conform closely to traditional heroic archetypes, nevertheless he obtains the stature of a tragic hero. The figure of Heathcliff is interpreted in the light of Romantic, Gothic, and Byronic archetypes and found to have elements of each. The violent nature of the hero is explored and evaluated in its relationship to the heroic ideal. The conclusion is drawn that although the presence of evil exerts an influence upon the character and actions of Heathcliff, this element does not preclude his being interpreted as a tragic hero.
Ayn Rand's careful choice of the romance as the appropriate genre for her presentation of the heroic ideal testifies to her artistry. An examination of her use of the quest motif and of the development of her supra-human characters is conducted in the light of Rand's own literary and ethical philosophies. The heroic figures of Atlas Shrugged are evaluated by the tenets of Objectivism which include a belief in the supremacy of man's mind, a belief in the worth of the individual, and a doctrine which teaches the virtue of selfishness. Attention is given to the moral implications of Rand's philosophy when applied to the actions of the characters in Atlas Shrugged.