Martín de Porres, Hero Critical Context - Essay

Claire Huchet Bishop

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Any religion would regard Porres’ life as a saintly one, whether or not he was formally canonized or literally treated as divine. Bishop, however, although sensitive to the possibilities of supernatural events in Porres’ life, chooses to designate him a hero—a noun with distinctly secular connotations. Speculations on the reasons for this choice come readily to mind. Martín de Porres, Hero was published in 1954, in the immediate aftermath of history’s most devastating war. Moreover, the Cold War was underway between the giant superpower blocs, and lesser wars, such as the one in Korea, were threatening to erupt into full conflagrations. Military and political heroes existed in abundance and indeed were common fare in the public’s channels of information. Ironically, on the other hand, Bishop’s United States had plunged into what proved to be its first age of genuine affluence, with attendant emphasis on life’s values being reckoned by material goods.

Therefore, with the power of great delicacy, Bishop refocuses young minds on what was rapidly becoming an obscured definition of heroism: the unadvertised life of self-denial, of devotion to others, and of cheerfully dispensed love in a world which, like that of Porres, continued the oppressions of imperialism and colonialism and of class, caste, bigotry, poverty, and racism. Bishop’s biography is a charming, subtle, and intelligent story that is unlikely to become dated in the future.