Examples Of Heroes In Literature

What are some literary examples of heroes?

I just need some example from either a book, novel or short story. Not necessarily heroes like superman, but more like people who put others ahead of him/her.

Expert Answers
jeromeleo eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Who can forget two of the most sacrificial characters in all of literature--one who denies his own love out of love for another, and one who literally dies for one he loves.  Of course I'm speaking of Cyrano in Cyrano deBergerac and Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.

Cyrano loves Roxane, a woman most unworthy of his love, at least in the beginning.  She is interested in the young soldier Christian because he is handsome and cuts a dashing figure in his military attire.  Hers is a superficial love, and so is his for her.  Despite this, Cyrano helps the two of them start and maintain a romance.  It does finally blossom into something real and meaningful, and then Christian dies.  For fifteen years, Cyrano continues to love Roxane from afar, unwilling to sacrifice her love for the memory of his friend.  Cyrano sacrificially puts Roxane's love and Christian's memory above his own love and dies without ever having a chance at happiness.  His is a pure and sacrificial love. 

Sidney Carton is a wastrel until he is transformed by his pure and unrequited love for Lucie Manette.  When Lucie's husband Charles is in a French prison and condemned to die by the guillotine, Sidney secretly and deliberately trades places with him.  Out of his love for Lucie, Sidney pays the ultimate price for another man. 

Both Cyrano and Sydney Carton are heroic and selfless in their love for another.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

So many novels--so many heroes to choose from. Just to name a few:

  • ATTICUS FINCH, To Kill a Mockingbird. The quintessential literary attorney, Southern gentleman and father became a hero to the black citizens of Maycomb when he took a case that no one else would.
  • ODYSSEUS, The Odyssey.  Not exactly a superhuman character since he was proudly mortal, Odysseus fought bravely in battle, used his wits to his advantage, and returned to his home to drive out the invaders. Few characters in literature have ever fit the description of a "hero" better.
  • RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI, The Jungle Book.  Few animals reached greater heroic status than Rikki, the cobra-killing mongoose. Rikki saved his human masters more than once and defended the garden and its animal inhabitants from the deadly cobras who lived there.
  • HENRY FLEMING, The Red Badge of Courage.  Henry makes up for his earlier cowardice when he "skedaddles" in battle by determining to stand his ground against the next Confederate charge. Not only does he stand fast, he inspires his own men by advancing alone after the retreating enemy.
missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird is a hero. He put Tom Robinson ahead of Atticus' own reputation. A hero is someone willing to sacrifice of themselves for the benefit of others. Atticus did this by allowing people to make judgments about him before, during, and after the trial. Even though it was obvious to readers that Tom Robinson was innocent, the guilty verdict demonstrated that the town still had racial angst toward the black community. Atticus dealt with being called a "nigger-lover" and receiving the backhand of the white community in many ways.

Boo Radley from the same book is a hero. He risked himself by entering into a conflict with Bob Ewell in order to save the children.

John Proctor from The Crucible is a moral hero. He risks his life, even dies for the moral principle of truth. After having suffered through much hypocrisy himself, Proctor refuses to sign his name to a confession of being a witch and is hanged for not signing. He is one of my literary heroes because he chose doing the right thing over doing the easy thing.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many people to choose from. Here is a small list of characters from literature.

1. Aeneas from Virgil's Aenied is a great example. He went through so many hardships for the sake of his people and according to the epic, he was the one who founded Rome. Virgil's favorite adjective for him was "pious." By this he was dutiful at his own expense.

2. From a more warlike point of view, how about Beowulf. He possessed military prowess, courage, and great skill in defending his people against Grendel.

3. For a Christian point of view, you can say Jesus. He sacrificed himself for his people and demonstrated his love to all people, even his enemies.


susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like the rebels: Randle McMurphy, for instance, in Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. He fights for the other inmates at the asylum and loses everything in the fight.   Or Jerry Renault in Cormier's The Chocolate Wars. Jerry holds out as long as he can until he discovers that there is no way to beat the evil system that governs his school.   These heroes sacrifice themselves for the good of others until the system breaks them.  Will McLean in Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline fights the system and wins. He comes out victorious over the secret group at his school, a flip side to Jerry's struggle in Cormier's novel.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harry Potter is clearly a hero that fits your definition.  He is constantly trying to do the right thing to protect himself and more importantly, those around him.  He lives under the constant threat from enemies on all sides: at school, at home, and just about anywhere else he finds himself.  He knows he has been marked (literally) for greatness, but is still an awkward and humble boy who sets about, against seemingly insurmountable odds, to protect the good people from Voldemort and his evil followers.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would have to agree with Sydney Carton being one of the most profound hero figures I can think of. I think what makes him such a great hero figure is that he is shockingly human in his drunkenness and proneness to mope and think badly about himself. What raises him above the other heroes posted above is that in spite of this he is able to "resurrect" himself by freely giving his life for Charles Darnay so that his love, Lucie, can live a happy life.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like the choice of Atticus Finch as a hero. He not only became a hero to the black community for taking the case but also to his own family as the story went on.

From your loose definition of "hero", I assume you are looking for the (different) archetypes of Christian and Roman heroes. A Christian hero, in my understanding, is someone who places the good of humanity above his own, loves all human kind as his brothers, and sacrifices for what he believes in (the original Christian hero is of course Jesus of Nazareth). A Roman hero is someone who places his nation ahead of his own good and stoically represses his emotions out of a sense of duty (greatest example is Aeneas). Keep in mind that these are archetypes we draw from our collective consciousness, and these labels are completely artificial and arbitrary.

I will make short lists of each in pop culture later.


mazzzz | Student

Harry Potter is clearly a hero that fits your definition.  He is constantly trying to do the right thing to protect himself and more importantly, those around him.  He lives under the constant threat from enemies on all sides: at school, at home, and just about anywhere else he finds himself.  He knows he has been marked (literally) for greatness, but is still an awkward and humble boy who sets about, against seemingly insurmountable odds, to protect the good people from Voldemort and his evil followers.

Harry Potter is too selfish to realise what goes on around him and his actions lead to the death or hurt of all those people that cared for him. also he does not actually save many people and though he is perpared to face death... tbh thats just cowardice, cause he is too afraid of life... 

In conclusion, just NO!

eilarmos | Student

Oscar Wilde told a tale about the golden statue called the “Happy Prince” and the Sparrow. Happy Prince serves as the mastermind and the sparrow as the messenger of the prince’s goodwill.  Both devote themselves, selflessly, in helping the poor and the needy. Happy Prince, who is made out of gold and precious gems gives up all his ornaments and becomes an ordinary statue, and Sparrow who is young, energetic and vigorous grows old and dies only to pave the way for the good plans of the Happy Prince. They sacrifice their personal motives and give up their personal happiness for the welfare of others; they put their lives at stake only to do good things for the needy. Such is hard to do, something that only fits well to a real hero.

Pavel Andreitch as told by Anton Chekhov in the fiction: “The Wife” also epitomizes a hero. He is described as educated, honest, high principled, rich… But in effect, he is also characterized as suffocating, oppressing, insulting and humiliating by his wife. In his quest to find himself and the real meaning of his existence, he gave up all his wealth and belongings, almost literally everything he has in order to help the peasants who were under famine. He was uncertain of what will happen in the future, that he might grow old and poor; but he worried not. He found happiness in such action, he found pleasure seeing his wife doing good things for others in the expense of his own money and properties, and very selflessly, he said towards the end of the story, when his wife was looking for what more she can give for the starving peasant: “…there will soon be nothing of our property left and we shall be poor; but that does not trouble me, and I smile at her gaily.”