The Vicar of Wakefield opens with a well-known statement in favor of matrimony:
I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population. From this motive, I had scarce taken orders a year before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well.
The tone of the book is set by this simple beginning. The Reverend Dr. Primrose is not a romantic figure, nor an obviously heroic one. He says nothing about loving his wife but stipulates that he married out of a sense of public duty and chose a good woman for the purpose.
Dr. Primrose is clearly not a hero in the epic tradition, but as the book progresses, he does display a strength of character and Christian faith that are proof against everything he has to endure in the course of the narrative. In the initial advertisement, Oliver Goldsmith himself writes of Dr. Primrose,
The hero of this piece unites in himself the three greatest characters upon earth; he is a priest, an husbandman, and the father of a family. He is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey, as simple in affluence, and majestic in adversity.
The use of the word hero is not in itself significant. It may mean no more than "protagonist." The praise of Dr. Primrose, both in his social function and his character, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. The idea of the hero grew up before Christianity, and the first heroes are far from Christian in character. They are like Gilgamesh or Achilles: harsh, imperious warriors. Dr. Primrose is simple and sometimes mildly ridiculous, but he is a good Christian who comes to appear heroic in the way he adheres to his faith and his calling. His spiritual autobiography may not contain much development or any great epiphanies, but it does reveal a fine character, which the reader comes to respect, despite Dr. Primrose's flaws.