Well this is an interesting question because one needs to consider the idea of the hero. If we can presume that a hero is an ordinary man or woman who performs extraordinary feats for the good of humanity, there will be one list. But what about the great tragic heroes...
Well this is an interesting question because one needs to consider the idea of the hero. If we can presume that a hero is an ordinary man or woman who performs extraordinary feats for the good of humanity, there will be one list. But what about the great tragic heroes who are swept into the river of life and struggle to reach shore only to find death and misfortune on the bank of their life?
Consider Hamlet who who attempting to right the wrong of his father's murder. He succeeds, but at what cost?
Consider Oedipus whose life is a struggle with fate, the gods, and his own hubris. His search for the truth is monumental. How many people would dare continue down the road he has willingly travelled?
Then there is King Lear, who, as he says, "I am a very foolish fond old man..." who sees the truth but too late.
The greatness of these men lies in their willingness to grow and change, often despite their weaknesses and frailties.
Then there are those who live good lives and sweep others along their road to destiny. Consider Pilate from Morrison's Song of Solomon. As she nears death, Pilate tells Milkman, "I wish I'd knowed more people. I would of loved 'em all. If I'd a knowed more, I would have loved more." Her life, far from ordinary, was an heroic quest for love and peace.
How about James McBride's mother in The Color of Water? Read her life, and although not fiction, it plays the song of hero throughout.
Consider the Parson and the Plowman, brothers in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Both are good men who devote their lives to others. Jane Eyre who devotes her life to a man, Mr. Rocester, who has suffered much and lost more ilives a heroic yet difficult life.
The point is, literature is a garden of heroic deeds by ordinary people who grow into heroic ones, all of whom can teach the reader about life and living that life to the fullest. Whether a charming character from Dr. Seuss or a complex one like Henry Fleming or or a devote loving man like Archbishop Jean Marie Latour in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop; it doesn't matter that they are all imperfect. That fact is they change; they grow; they leave behind a legacy of goodness. It is what the reader should strive for when becoming one with a book.
It is why we read. The villain may have interest for many, but the hero is the icon to which we can mirror our life. I guess one can say, Dante is a hero for he journey into the depths of Hell to find Empyrion, while Satan resides below Cocytus forever flapping away because he sought ruin. The hero seeks redemption and rebirth. Read on; read on, and you will find a hero on whom you can mirror you life.