Top Ten: Heroes

Heroes go through a specific, instantly recognizable journey. From answering the call to adventure, to chilling with Ganda—Dumble—Obi-Wa—their mentor, to beating the big bad, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with these larger-than-life do-gooders. But even though heroes typically follow the same structure, they all have their own unique talents and challenges.

Here are Shmoop’s Top Ten Studliest Heroes.

10. Heracles (Hercules)

Ah, Heracles: the quintessential mythological hero. The demi-god (his parents are the divine Zeus and the mortal Alcmene) killed many beasts and monsters and became a god after his death. Not all was cool for Herc, though. Herc had to fight not only literal demons but his personal ones as well. After killing his family, he had to perform the twelve labors in order to redeem himself. Of course, no sooner did he complete those than his wife accidentally poisoned him and killed him. Awks. Oh well. At least the Disney movie featured one of our fav songs of all time.

9. Aeneas from Virgil’s Aeneid

This epic poem, is, well, epic. Aeneas feels like he is doing the will of the gods by going into battle (though maybe he could have upped his mercy levels). In the end, Aeneas’ good characteristics arguably outweigh the bad: he displays incredible loyalty to people he cares about like his father, Anchises, and son, Ascanius… unfortunately, his call to action was more important than the feelings of his wife Dido. Insert sad face here.

8. Randle McMurphy from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Randle’s character proves that you don’t have to win wars or fight beasts to be a hero. His antagonist is Nurse Ratched, who treats patients totally cruelly. He spends some time conforming to her rules, but he eventually has the bravery to stand up to her on behalf of his fellow patients, even in the face of electroshock therapy. After the death of his friend, he attempts to strangle the nurse and comes back from the hospital a different person, without his spark and vitality. Yup. Sometimes the hero’s tale doesn’t end in a fairytale happy ending, but that doesn’t eliminate his or her accomplishments.

7. Guy Montag from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Guy struggles a lot of guilt; he was a fireman who burned books and now he saves books? Throughout the novel, he tries to sort out his thoughts in a heroic mental battle while he tries to navigate a chilling dystopia. Guy shows that an epiphany does not come easily or can be prescribed in a book—experience plays a large role. So, in order to be a hero, you’ve got to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.

 6. Charlie Bucket from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie’s one of our favs because he’s super caring: he asks if his fellow golden ticket winners (who are total meanies) are okay after they get hurt. He also doesn’t talk a lot, so when he does, it means a lot. These qualities set him apart from the other spoiled children on the tour and ultimately show Mr. Wonka that Charlie would be the perfect person to inherit the eponymous factory. Brava, Charlie! You deserve it.

5. Arnold Spirit (a.k.a Junior) from Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Junior makes the transition from a reservation to an affluent white high school and proves to be one of the most compelling characters we’ve ever read about. He struggles with his identity—who is he? White? Indian?—and figuring out his place in the world. Junior finally realizes that he, like all of us, belongs to many tribes and he doesn’t have to pick just one. He’s able to combine all the parts of himself into one person, and that gives him the determination and perseverance to keep it together and succeed.

4. Mark Mathabane from Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy

Mark is dealt a tough lot in life: he grew up in Apartheid South Africa and lived in fear of the police. Despite his hardships, he succeeds academically and discovers a passion for tennis. Mark doesn’t let setbacks stop him, and eventually lands a tennis scholarship in the U.S. Talk about overcoming obstacles and showing the world how awesome you are.

3. Frodo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring

Frodo starts out as an average, homely hobbit who is thought of as a bit odd, along with his adoptive dad, Bilbo (notice a trend in which the odd underdogs do great things?). He sets out on a quest to destroy the One Ring to Rule Them All in Mordor and, along with his fellowship of friends, he battles the evil outside and within and succeeds in his quest.

2. Frederick Douglass from Frederick Douglass’ The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Brush up for your AP US History exam, Shmoopers. In Douglass’ autobiography, he talks about what it was like to grow up in slavery and tells us his remarkable journey to freedom in the north. His tenacity and dedication to his belief that slaves should live regular lives led to some amazing accomplishments. This guy is a real, live hero.

1. Dr. Bernard Rieux from Albert Camus’ The Plague

The doctor steps up and insists action should be taken against the plague. But he doesn’t think that he’s a hero (nor does he want other people to think that). Rather, he’s just doing what has to be done. Can someone be a hero if they don’t think they are? We say yes!

Did we miss your favorite hero? Tell us in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Top Ten: Heroes

  1. Let us not forget Atticus Finch, the lawyer in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. He placed
    moral rectitude above his own safety and the safety of his much-beloved children. He conducted himself in a quiet way with a dignified certitude. He did what was right–because it was right.

  2. Egad! You have a major blind spot on this one. Not a female hero in the bunch? From ancient to modern day, you are missing characters who meld wit and strength to compassion. Think the Wife of Bath (early feminist), Scheherazade, Hester Prynne, Scout Finch, Liesel Meminer (Book Thief), and our modern favorites, Hermione Granger and Katness Everdeen. I’m inspired just thinking about these strong female heroes.

  3. I think a good modern hero would be Percy Jackson from The Lightning Thief because he places loyalty to his friends and family above all else even in the face of a Titan overlord.

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