Classical heroes typically are strong, brave, manly and courageous. They often display tremendous fearlessness in military battles or other types of dangerous conflict. They also generally adhere to a personal code of ethics that guides their actions. In literature, a classical hero is usually a character who appears to be...
Classical heroes typically are strong, brave, manly and courageous. They often display tremendous fearlessness in military battles or other types of dangerous conflict. They also generally adhere to a personal code of ethics that guides their actions. In literature, a classical hero is usually a character who appears to be different from the others because of his exemplary personal conduct and bravery. In classical literature, heroes also generally perform great deeds or selfless acts for humanity at large.
By contrast, in Charles Dickens’ body of work, the heroes are often everyday people or even not particularly likable at the start of the story. Thus, one chief difference between a Dickensian hero and a classical hero is that the heroic aspects of a character’s personality is often not revealed in a Dickens story until a difficult situation arises. In fact, sometimes a Dickens’ hero is among the most seemingly ordinary or even unlikable characters in the book. The Dickens hero then displays unusual valor, bravery, or strength of conviction in the face of a moral or physical dilemma.
For instance, Scrooge is avaricious and extremely unlikable. He is uncharitable towards his fellow man, not even allowing his clerk, poor Bob Cratchit, a decent fire in his office hearth to keep him warm during the cold winter workdays. However, over the course of the story, as he encounters first his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and then three spirits, he learns to change. Marley warns him about the perils of not mending his ways, and then three spirits show him his past, present, and future in an attempt to teach him to embrace humanity. At the end of the story, Scrooge realizes that he wants to rejoin humankind. He is redeemed and sets upon the right path. The last chapter in the novella notes of the reformed Scrooge:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter.
In Great Expectations, neither Pip nor Estella are very classically heroic at the beginning. Pip is, in fact, rather commonplace initially. He is an orphan who does nothing remarkable other than showing some small kindness to Magwitch. After his secret benefactor grants him a substantial sum of money, Pip is not even that likable. He becomes pretentious. Ultimately, however, he begins to recognize the flaws in his own behavior. Similarly, at the end of the novel, Estella acknowledges her personal character development, which has made her a better person. She says to Pip, “when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”
Sydney Carton might be one of the most puzzling of Dickens’ heroes. He is self pitying and an alcoholic. However, he eventually shows elements of tragic heroism when he sacrifices himself so that Lucie Manette can lead a happy life with the man she loves. As he faces his death, he acknowledges his many flaws and his hope that his final act will help redeem him posthumously. He says:
I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more ...
I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away ...
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.