Why is it necessary for every hero in a story to face death?Why is it necessary for every hero in a story to face death?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You surely know that many heroes do not face death.  Here is a quickly thought-up  list of heroes who do not face death:

a) Antonia, in Willa Cather's My Antonia;

b) the minister in E.E. Hale's "My Double, and How He Undid Me";

c) Nora, in Ibsen's "A Doll's House";

d) the narrator in Henry James's The Aspern Papers;

e) Liza Doolittle in G.B. Shaw's "Pygmalion."

Yet, you are correct that quite a few literary heroes face death.  Why? 

For one thing, it's a good way to bring a story to a climax--one great moment in which tension is high and the reader feels compelled to continue reading.

For another thing, it's a way of exploring critical, life-or-death issues: What is a character willing to die for?  How does the character react in the face of death?  Why do some people want to kill others?  What would the author's fictional world be like after the death of this particular character?

rshaffer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

     This is an interesting question because I had a discussion with my class the other day as to what defines a hero.  We were studying Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and we were deciding which character was most heroic.

     My students said that "a hero is anyone who does extraordinary things most often through personal scarifice of some sort." 

      I found this definition interesting, and I believe it applies to your question because when the reader identifies with a hero, especially one who has sacrificed, a stronger sense of compassion is developed for that character, and therefore, when that character finds death, the reader's sense of sympathy and even empathy are heightened. 

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heroes are, in many ways, larger than life.  They do more or better or different than the rest of us.  That's true in their actions as well as their thinking.  We might say they live at the extremes of society, and that's what qualifies them to be heroes.  Given that, one of the most extreme things in life is death.  While a hero doesn't have to face it, as was correctly pointed out above, it's not surprising if he does.  How he faces death is an indication of how the rest of us "mere mortals" might do the same. 

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, it's not absolutely necessary that a hero faces death per se, but since death is the ultimate challenge, and one that everyone must face eventually, every single reader can relate to what the hero is facing, and so a literary goal is achieved by placing the hero in that situation.  It draws clear boundaries between characters, and society in general tends to lionize those who have faced death before their time, especially in combat, as many literary heroes are placed in.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I absolutely agree with Post #2.  It is often very compelling to see how heroes react when they are placed in very stressful situations.  They do not really have to face death, but situations in which death is possible are, by their very nature, stressful.  So if you really want to see what your hero is "made of," you can have them face death and see how they deal with it.

mazzzz | Student

death is the biggest event in life......well yeah you get what i mean....

landsmerryman | Student

I often use Campbell's outline of the hero's journey as a framework for studying novels with heroic lead characters.  Within that construct, facing death, whether it's in the form of a monster or a situation, is necessary in helping the character grow so that he (most of the time the hero is male, but there is a new model for the heroine now) will not be crippled by fear later on in his evolution if this is a secondary encounter, or if this is the climax this establishes the character as a messianic figure who is willing to sacrifice himself or simply a character whose love for the greater good is more than his own self love. 

ichengoba | Student

I do agree with the second post. 

Although i wish you tell you that usually in a tragic form it is one of the important features to rise pugation of emotions of pity as well as fear in the mind of the readers or the audience. Such feelings leaves greater impact on people and are long lived in the minds of the readers.

so, the writers tries to arise in its readers the purgation of emotions like pity and fear.

p.s: "martyrdom is considered a heroic act".


nandini289 | Student

At first, it is not necessary  for every hero in a story to face death. Because in many stories as you can see in the post -2 ,the heroes face typical situations being alive and sometimes get death also.  But, at first we should know that what is Hero and what we aspect  with them.

In the story,we can see the many characters but how we decide about that the same person is a hero? As the above posts had said that the hero is one who sacrifice and struggle against wrong and do good work ." But according to these arguments what will you say about W. Shakespeare's dramas , as Macbeth, Hamlet and The merchant of Venice ? In Macbeth, we can see, how Macbeth do all evil deeds and get death.After all, we will say him the hero of the play, why? On the other side Hamlet sacrifices for goodness and got death, at last. And he is also called the hero of the play. But in the Merchant of Venice the hero lives alive.

So, we can not say that  the hero is one who sacrifices and struggle against wrong and do good work but he is one who is the main character in the story,play,drama and novel .It may be wrong also and good too.




misscorvello | Student
Why is it necessary for every hero in a story to face death?

Why is it necessary for every hero in a story to face death?


Every hero must face tragedy in order for him/her to be worthy of being called a hero--especially in the older works, if a hero wasn't a tragic hero, then he (or she) was no hero at all.


~Becky C.