Cultural & Social Studies

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The Myth of the Modern Hero

Changing Perceptions of Heroism

Jane L. Bownas is an independent scholar who has published several articles on Thomas Hardy. Her Thomas Hardy . and Empire: The Representation of Imperial Themes in the Work of Thomas Hardy was published in 2012; and War, the Hero and the Will: Hardy, Tolstoy and the Napoleonic Wars in 2014.

The idea of the hero originates in myths from the distant past and has been applied to many different concepts in different societies, cultures and historical time periods. As a mythical signifier the meaning of the word ‘hero’ changes according to the intentions of the user, and this study examines some of the ways in which heroic myths have been created, either to justify the actions of those in power or to produce an imaginary ideal to which the majority can aspire.

The warrior heroes of Greek legend fighting for individual glory and honour have little in common with the soldiers fighting in the wars of the twentieth century, resulting in the creation of a new hero myth, that of the patriotic, dutiful and obedient soldier. As a result of wars and the emergence of new states there is a need for new myths depicting heroes who fight and if necessary die in order to defend their nation. Heroic myths are important for those seeking power and this study considers the extent to which Germanic myths played a part in the emergence of Hitler as a ‘heroic’ leader.

In recent times the idea of the hero with which people most readily identify is the ‘extreme altruist’ – someone who is ready to risk their own life to save the life of another person. The possible origins of and reasons for such behaviour are examined. All humans possess the potential to act in ways which might be considered to be heroic, even when this involves living an ordinary life with courage and endurance.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-902-9
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: January 2018
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Introductory chapter

The Hero as Fighter: Warriors, Soldiers and Martyrs

Heroic Resistance: Courage and Steadfastness

Myth, Power and the “Heroic” Leader

Extreme Altruism and the “Heroic Imagination”

Not Heroes, Just Human Beings


Bownas, an independent scholar, considers the ubiquitous use of the word “hero” and the need people have to transform fellow humans into the heroes of myth and legend. She deconstructs specific categories of myth associated with the word from the 20th century to the present: the Homeric warrior hero, the American patriotic hero, the soldier hero, the freedom fighter, the resister, the state-sanctioned hero, the heroic leader, and the hero willing to risk their life for the sake of others.

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