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Heroes of American Realism

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Heroes of American Realism

The American realists of the late 19th century were notably adept at creating deep, memorable characters --whether virtuous or villainous-- who are continuously developed throughout the tales in which they exist. These authors often used their protagonists for a higher purpose than mere storytelling, endeavoring to construct a critique of the times by placing the characters in opposition to their respective societies. As a result, the protagonist often becomes an unassuming type of hero to the reader, by courageously (or obtusely) defying convention, and doubting the ignorant assumptions of society. Three such characters that were born of American realism are found in the novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain; Daisy Miller, by Henry James; and Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser -- and the characters of interest to this paper happen to be the very same after which these novels are titled. Though these three stories are vastly different, each places its protagonist in a testing environment, against challenging obstacles and dilemmas. The characters' responses to their difficulties often show their heroism, or lack thereof, and, consequently, these characters gain esteem, to some degree, in the eyes of the reader. I will discuss each of these characters' heroic qualities, in contrast to his shortcomings, which are both elicited by the numerous obstacles that he must overcome, and I will thus determine to what extent each can be considered a `hero'.

In a thorough analysis of heroism, it is necessary to stipulate the meaning of this word, and thereby establish a satisfactory base for conjecture. `Heroism' in this paper shall simply include strength of character, sound morality...


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... be swept away into materialism and the mad scramble for fortune, then capitalism must be evil in itself. Therefore, Carrie's vulnerability and weakness of character are necessary for Dreiser's message, and her failures are to be learned from.

In conclusion, I found Huckleberry Finn to be the most obvious hero, for he resisted convention to help his friend. Daisy Miller acts admirably, but without a purpose for her behavior, she is merely a puppet used by Henry James to make a point. Finally, Sister Carrie is the least heroic of the three, for her pursuits are shallow and materialistic, and eventually prove themselves so through her failed acquisition of happiness. Regardless of the extent of each character's heroic qualities, each serves the purpose of the author who created them, making a valuable statement about the follies of humankind.

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