Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Helpless Romantic from a Traditional World

The eighteenth century was the era of the Romantic hero. Born into a dangerous era, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many other authors of their time began to despise the traditional hero, and to craft what is known today as the romantic hero.

The Traditional Hero claims many of his inheritances from old gods and mythology; some Traditional Heroes even are gods. This first incarnation of the Hero was viewed as this perfect being; a perfect embodiment of the societies moral views and aspirations. Taking on all of the evils of the world, the Traditional Hero fights to rid the world of wrong. He will eventually face a great trial to prove himself as a true hero and he will succeed or die succeeding. He is a leader of sorts and very connected to the community. All people will look up to him and desire his help and guidance. Of course, our Hero must also be a very strong warrior, the embodiment of all human physical and spiritual strength, and he is completely selfless. All of these traits create the perfection that is the Traditional Hero.

Personally, I feel intimidated by this idea of a perfect person and so did those of the eighteenth century. According to Lilian Furst in the article "The Romantic Hero, or is he an Anti-Hero?": "there were signs of a certain unease with the heroic ideal." People were leaning farther and farther away from this idea of a perfect hero, not just because he made them uneasy, but because there was no connection; such a hero did not exist in the world. It was this time that the search for the true hero, one whom people could identify with and that might exist in the modern world, began. Furst discusses this search for a true hero and the birth of the Romantic Hero; but also the birth of the Anti-Hero.

The Romantic Hero was everything the Traditional Hero could not be. He was a man whom people could identify with, but with him came an ugly reality. Our new hero had a unique ego, usually was self absorbed, and did not have guilt over his actions. He was a man of personal judgement whom was not afraid to use people for his own means and goals. The Romantic Hero came with a price, like real people, the Romantic Hero often lead to his own demise and often did not see the real world. This was a dark truth that opened many peoples eyes, and yet simply drew others closer. The Romantic Hero underlined the selfishness and greed, and the shortcomings of the world. On the contrary, he also was human. This humanity drew people in and allowed them to understand the Hero and his self-created world.

"The replacement of the old ethos of duty by the new ethos of feeling..." facilitated the development of this new Romantic Hero (Furst). The Traditional Hero was a depiction of what everyone strived to be, but the results were unattainable and unrealistic. The Romantic Hero was powered by emotions and feelings. He is not necessarily good or evil in the traditional sense, but simply a main character who seeks to do justice, according to his world. Furst compares the Romantic Hero to the Gothic villian due to his twisted justice.

The Romantic Hero was still someone to be looked up to and often had a very gentlemanly status as well as good looks. Similarly the Romantic Hero also believed in justice, but unlike the Traditional Hero who's justice was a social justice, he upheld a personal justice. The Romantic Hero led many people towards a more cynical outlook on life, as he was more in-tune with the problems with the world as well as sometimes being one.

The cynicism derived from the Romantic Hero began to create a new Hero, the Anti-Hero. As authors and readers alike began to grow more and more jaded to the problems in society, they began to address this issues with the Romantic Hero; but to their dismay this created a new Hero. The Anti-Hero, like the Romantic Hero, shares in the idea of a self-conscious person who has a bankruptcy of idealism. He questions the system and views the world in his own eyes. What separates him from the Romantic Hero is that he actually transcends the Romantic Hero and begins to question his world. The Romantic Hero, in his own self-centered way, is alone because no one truly understands him and everyone is a puppet; a tool. The Anti-Hero, on the other hand, is alone because he has pushed everyone away; he is too focused on the petty things in life, and disgusted with that dark world that the Romantic Hero was brought light to.

The Anti-Hero is a nihilistic character, full of self-irony and hypocrisy. He has embraced the idea that he is small in the world and is imperfect, as a result this new Hero actually brings a light to the world that the Romantic Hero could not.

The growth of Heroes mirrors societies growth. Humanities strive to reach perfection was first embodied in the Heroes of old. As humanity grew and came to the realization that these goals, while pure and moral, were too steep to reach, humanity began seeking something less ideal, something that did not make one feel insignificant and frail. Thus, the Romantic Hero was born; a hero and character that humanity could relate to. Through his imperfections society continued to grow and humanity began to comment more and more on its imperfections and as a result humanity accidentally created the Anti-Hero.