Contrasting Ideals of a Hero in Catch-22 and Beowulf
John Yossarian, the individualist combateer of Catch-22, and Beowulf, the hero of Denmark, though both protagonists of their stories, portray two seemingly contrasting ideals of a hero. Yossarian, even by virtue of his unusual name, is marked as an outsider and an individualist who displays cowardly and self-motivated acts. Beowulf, on the other hand, is the personification of the "perfect" hero. His deeds are inhumanly courageous, he is accepted without question by those he seeks alliance with, and acted with the interests of his followers in mind.
Yossarian breaks away from the idealistic mold of the hero from the very start. He does not endanger his own well-being for the sake of his peers. In fact, he goes to lengths to avoid putting his life in peril at any and every chance. However, because the system of values surrounding Yossarian is so obscure and distorted, this perspective stands out as being, ironically, the only "right" path for him to follow, even if it is only by virtue of being logical. It is in this way that Yossarian forces the reader to redefine their notions of the typical hero, as one who seeks little more than self-preservation. In sharp contrast, Beowulf seemed to have been created with the sole purpose of living the life of a warrior. His feats of strength and courage were staggering. However, he also exemplifies the personal, and often endearing, traits that we seek in a stereotypical hero. He is loyal, courteous, and conscientious. All these values can be best depicted in his swimming match against Breca.
Yossarian, despite his self-proclaimed self-interest, shows a startlingly human and compassionate side. I...
... middle of paper ...
...d Beowulf can be as simple as the fact that the moral values in the late twentieth century are vastly different from the ones of Beowulf's time. While today we seek heroes who are as imperfect as the rest of us, heroes with whom we can identify ourselves with, audiences of old might have preferred a hero to whom they could aspire to. However, one thing remains the same. Both Yossarian and Beowulf shared an interest in their fellowman, and perhaps that is what ultimately defines our notions of a hero.
Alexander, Michael, translator. The Earliest English Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Frank, Mike. "Enos and Thanatos in Catch-22." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. Vol.11. (77-87) Detroit: Gale, 1990.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Dell Publishing, 1955, 1961