Illustration of Kate Hardcastle in high society attire on the left, and dressed as a barmaid on the right

She Stoops to Conquer

by Oliver Goldsmith

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Why is Tony Lumpkin an unconventional hero in She Stoops to Conquer?

Quick answer:

In She Stoops to Conquer, Tony Lumpkin can be considered an unconventional hero in that there's seldom anything particularly noble about his behavior. An uneducated man with a penchant for practical jokes, Lumpkin is not someone we'd normally regard as a hero.

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Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. But most people still cleave to a rather old-fashioned ideal of what a hero should look like. Brave, physically strong, and utterly fearless, a hero is traditionally someone that we'd like to have alongside us, someone we'd want to have on our side in a crisis.

On the basis of this heroic ideal, it's difficult to see how Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer can be seen as a hero. Though someone with street smarts, Tony lacks anything in the way of formal education. To some extent, this accounts for his immaturity, which finds its ultimate expression in the numerous pranks in which he loves to indulge.

They say that you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep, and Tony Lumpkin keeps company with some pretty low characters. He loves nothing more than knocking back a few ales at the local tavern with sundry unsavory characters. Again, it's difficult to see what's so heroic about this kind of behavior, at least according to the traditional concept of heroism.

However, Tony is a hero all the same in that he defies the stifling conventions of upper-class life to which he is expected to adhere. It takes a lot of guts to challenge the expectations of one's class, especially in such a rigidly hierarchical society as that depicted in the play.

Tony Lumpkin may not be an Aeneas or an Odysseus, but in exposing the shallowness and hypocrisy of upper-class life, he's undoubtedly a hero all the same.

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