A hero is an ordinary person, usually a main protagonist in a story, who, against all odds, consistently combats adversity by exhibiting qualities of courage, ingenuity, or strength in the face of unbelievable odds. Just like other historically only gender-specific terms, hero has been used to describe any male, although hero only applies to men. One of the most quoted and best-selling books in history is A New Leaf by John Steinbeck. The book, written in the 1930s, is about the narrator,heartedly devoted to his country and the American ideals he believes in, who finds himself unable to fight off a flu virus. Though not technically a hero, Steinbeck portrays the hero as someone who surrenders to fate instead of fighting against it.
A hero image can be defined as the cognitive association with a specific hero or fantasy role. According to a recent study, children tend to have stronger hero images (cognitive templates) based on which they choose different heroes. Childhood memories and hero images also influence adult hero beliefs. In contrast, adult hero images are typically formed from adult perspectives. Childhood memories are more likely to provide adults with a positive hero image because they involve heroic acts, good examples, and external circumstances that help them overcome obstacles. According to this belief, heroes are bold, resolute, unafraid, and confident.
According to recent studies, however, children also form hero representations based on fairy tales and movies. A fairy tale is considered a heroic fantasy if it presents a clear, redeeming character and requires a hero to act heroically in order to succeed. Conversely, a story about a hero who depends on others to survive or a hero who experiences betrayal is considered a fantasy.
According to some researchers, contemporary literature may play a crucial role in shaping children’s conceptions of heroes. Famous Greek heroes like Hector, Odysseus, and Aeneas have long since been romanticized and presented as role models for young readers. Similarly, modern literature regarding super heroes such as Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men have created a new generation of American heroes. Moreover, television series such as Supergirl, Smallville, and The Avengers present strong female characters who achieve lifelong dream of being a hero.
Today, many children in United States identify as being a hero and regularly try to emulate the acts of great heroes. They are willing to fight to protect their friends and loved ones, but they do not fully understand the sacrifices they make in the process. A recent study revealed that most children who repeatedly attempt suicide and attempt to live up to parents’ expectations of heroic behavior will remain unhappy in life. In addition, they are unlikely to accept responsibility for their actions, which reduces their sense of control and responsibility. A recent qualitative analysis revealed that a lack of self-discipline, failure to take responsibilities, and a sense of entitlement are common characteristics of heroic behavior.
Perhaps, most children are not fully prepared to act as a hero until they develop a desire to identify with a beloved family member, an ideal hero figure, or an iconic historical hero. Most likely, this desire to identify with a hero begins at a very early age and continues into adulthood. This likely explains why so many children love fairy tales: because they offer an escape from the realities of life. Fairy tales present an escape from the daily routines of life by presenting fantastical stories in an easy-to-believe world. Children learn important values such as cooperation, sharing, and respect by playing fairy tales.