What makes a good hero?
A hero can be someone you look up to, or the main character in a film or book. Yet main characters are not always heroic - or not in obvious ways. Sleeping Beauty spends most of her story unconscious. Little Red Riding Hood escapes the wolf when the woodcutter chops it to bits. Cinderella is rescued by a prince. They’re all rescued by men. Does this mean that women can’t be heroes? Are we looking in the wrong place?
Main statement: maybe these stories are just old-fashioned
All these characters come from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, stories that were written in the nineteenth century, but are actually much older. So maybe the reason women have no power in these stories, is because that was what life was like then. Women got married. That was all. So it was a good ‘quest’ for Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White, or Cinderella to find a prince and marry. This links to older stories like Chaucer’s story of Griselda in The Clerk’s Tale, which was published in 1400. In this story, Griselda is sorely tested by her husband who pretends to kill her children one by one. Then he sends her away so he can marry another woman. She accepts without complaining. The story is supposed to teach patience in difficult times. It could be argued that it is also supposed to teach wives to shut up and stop complaining. In reality, very few women were really like this, so you could say it is more of a (male) fantasy. Modern stories are rather different, but can we dismiss these old-fashioned female heroes as pathetically weak?
Main statement: Is there anything positive about characters like Cinderella or Griselda? In our lives today, stepmothers are common, and we may see similar family tensions - although hopefully not being forced to sleep in the sooty fireplace or being abandoned in the forest. What would James Bond do? Punch his stepmother, set fire to the house and bomb the village? Sometimes, patient endurance is better. Though her stepmother is unkind, Cinderella isn’t unkind in return. She’s gentle, patient and keeps the house clean. It’s horrible that she’s treated badly, but there’s a lot of dignity in how well Cinderella behaves. She shines. Maybe that’s why the fairy godmother helps her.
The message is: be good even if people around you aren’t. It will get better. As for Griselda, we can only marvel at her strength. It’s not physical strength, like Bond, or Batman or Superman. But her strength, when she’s tested, is every bit as superhuman.
Main statement: Are Superhuman Heroes useful as role models? We don’t have superpowers!
The story of Griselda is often criticised as being unrealistic. So where does that leave heroes like Batman, Superman and Spiderman? Their powers might as well be magic. We can’t copy that, no matter how hard we try. Except this isn’t true of Batman. Of all the superheroes, he is one of the most interesting because he doesn’t have any ‘magic’ powers at all…
The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.