Traditionally, heroes represented the ideal member of society, reflecting the moral compass of a culture. The "last great heroic tradition in our literature," the Byronic hero, rebels against society, questioning morality (Thorslev 185). The modern hero, or anti-hero, internalizes the struggle for reconciliation. Traditional heroes represent social order, Byronic heroes represent social rebellion, and modern heroes represent social upheaval. The melancholic, brooding, isolated Byronic hero thrives on rebellion, the traditional hero flourishes on optimistic goodness, and the modern hero grasps for purpose. Samuel Taylor Coleridge criticizes the "savage grandeur" of the rebellious Byronic hero (400). Magua, of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, presents fierce rebellion and indeed rises to "savage grandeur." The feared and scorned Magua represents an American version of the Byronic hero, seemingly presenting antithetical qualities of a traditional hero, exemplified in the Anglo-Saxon epic hero, Beowulf.
Representing the best their societies have to offer, traditional heroes possess characteristics of honor, bravery, loyalty, and steadfastness. They personify communal values and offer a reason to believe in the possibility of a meaningful life in an ordered, harmonious society. The epic hero journeys on a quest, experiencing difficulties along the way, and triumphantly returns to society. An example of a traditional hero, Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epic hero, relies on his courage, intelligence, and superhuman strength as he slays the destructive forces that threatens the community. He accepts and embraces the social values, never questioning or ...
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...York: Doubleday, 1977.
Coleridge. Samuel Taylor. "The Statesmanâs Manual." 1816. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th ed. Vol.2. New York: Norton, 1993. 398-400.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Gross, Theodore L. The Heroic Ideal in American Literature. New York: Free Press, 1971.
Lieber, Todd. Endless Experiments: Essays on the Heroic Experience in American Romanticism. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1973.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th ed. Vol.2. New York: Norton, 1993. 480.
The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.
Thorslev, Peter L. Jr. The Byronic Hero. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1962.
Wilson, James D. The Romantic Heroic Ideal. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1982
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