Everyone Wants To Be Special, A Hero Of Their Own History
- Pages: 11
- Word count: 2558
- Category: Grendel
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It is a basic fact of humanity that every person wants, even requires, respect and admiration of their peers. In fact, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places the need for prestige and the feeling of accomplishment directly after those of the most basic of physical and emotional necessities. It is a fact of life that everyone wants to be seen by their peers as someone special, as the hero of their own story. While it is impossible for everyone to be a hero, that does not stop individuals from using the power of the story to make people believe otherwise. The works of John Gardiner, Anthony Burgess, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Suzanne Collins all rely on elements of storytelling to convey that it is a universally accepted truth that everyone wants to be remembered as a hero.
In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess utilizes Alex’s control of a first-person narrator, his unreliableness as a narrator, and his use of language to show how he wishes to be perceived as the hero of his story. Anthony Burgess’ 1963 novel tells the story of the violent teenager and the government’s controversial methods of correcting his behavior. The novel is narrated by its protagonist, Alex, who tells the events to the reader from a future taking place after the story’s completion. Alex uses a made-up slang called Nadsat and uses it heavily throughout his tale. The language creates a barrier between Alex and his readers, something he uses in tandem with his absolute control as the narrator to manipulate the readers into taking his favor and to separate them from his crueler deeds. This intention shows itself early in the narrative and is particularly visible in this section: “…locking her rookers from the back, while I ripped away this and that and the other, the others going haw haw haw still, and real good horrorshow groodies they were that then exhibited their pink glazzies, O my brothers, while I untrussed and got ready for the plunge.” (Burgess, 27).
This is a scene in which Alex describes restraining a woman’s hands, stripping, and then raping her while his friends laugh, though many may not be able to draw such a conclusion, and that is by design. Alex takes the words ‘hands’, ‘breasts’, and ‘nipples’, those which most obviously clue into the vulgarity of his actions, and switches them with units of his incomprehensible Nadsat dialect. Additionally, he describes both the action of stripping the woman and his friend’s laughter in vague language absent of more definitive verbiage and even refers to the rape itself as simply “the plunge”. He addresses his readers as “my brothers” at a time of confusion to make them feel like a part of his story, and even at home in it. He does so he can distract the readers from his savagery and then exploit their disorientation. Alex put on display in front of a crowd of government officials to demonstrate the success of the Ludovico Technique “I just stood there, brothers, like completely ignored by these ignorant bratchnies, so I creeched out ‘Me, me, me. How about me? Where do I come into all this? Am I like some animal or dog?’ and that started them off govoreeting real loud and throwing slovos at me.” (Burgess, 141). This is a pivotal moment in Alex’s retelling of the story. He conveys how he feels in powerful similes with heavy subtexts. Comparing himself to an animal is a reminder to the readers of his traumatizing time as an experimental subject, making his reader feel sympathetic towards him and horrified by the dehumanization he encountered. He then chooses to mention the laughter of the audience and their throwing “slovos” at him. If the reader understands Nadsat, they will sympathize with the image of Alex being laughed and shouted at as if a street performing monkey.
If the reader familiar with Nadsat, they could interpret Alex’s situation as something violent, as the word ‘throwing’ implies and was most likely used for this exact purpose. He uses language to gain sympathy from his readers and shows them that he is facing an obstacle that he must fight through, a fight during which the reader should root for his success. Once the Ludovico Technique is undone, Alex describes what it feels like to be returned to his natural state “Oh, it was gorgeosity and yum yum yum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow moment and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured alright.” (Burgess, 199). Alex uses positive language to describe how wonderful it feels to listen to his beloved music again without pain, making his audience feel the joy of a hero overcoming his great obstacle, but sneaking in a violent phrase in the middle that reveals what his true freedom really means. Throughout the book, Alex uses his power as the narrator to play with the emotions of his reader and make them root for his triumph, showing that even a villainous person such as him wishes to be seen as the hero of their story.
In Grendel, John Gardner utilizes conflict and a first-person narrator to show how everyone wants to be remembered as a hero. A spinoff of the infamous epic Beowulf, Grendel explores the perspective of the story’s antagonist. Grendel, tired of the villainous role that life has assigned him, pays a visit to the dragon, an all-knowing, immortal being. When the dragon tells him that it is no use trying to be good, Grendel responds “You said ‘Fiddlesticks,’” I said. “Why is it fiddlesticks if I stop giving people heart attacks over nothing? Why shouldn’t one change one’s ways, improve one’s character?” I must have been an interesting sight… bent like a priest at his prayers” (Gardner, 72). The dragon’s prophecies are known to be accurate, but Grendel refuses to accept his answer. The conflict of man vs. fate presents itself here for the first time of many, as Grendel questions what is not able to be questioned. Grendel’s first-person perspective provides additional insight, as he states that he only wishes to “stop giving people heart attacks”, not to actually be good. This indicates his ambition of being seen as a heroic figure.
Additionally, he compares himself to a priest bent in prayer. This simile goes deeper than just comparing Grendel’s posture to that of a priest, it hints at Grendel’s desperation to be good, how he is willing to beg God for the people to accept him and see him as something greater than a monster. Even though he knows that the Dragon knows all that ever was and will be, Grendel still questions his wisdom “‘You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves … inseparable as the mountain-climber from the mountain’… ‘Let them find some other ‘brute existence,’ whatever that is. I refuse.’” (Gardner, 73). Grendel wants his reputation to change, he wants for the rest of humanity to see him as good, but fate tells him that it will never be so. He is told that evil is inseparable from humanity and, even though he knows there is nothing he can do to change that, he still refuses to give into the role that he has been assigned in life. Grendel’s struggle against accepting his fate and first-person perspective illustrates that, regardless of the role he was assigned by society, even he wants to be remembered as the hero of his story.
The story Beowulf utilizes an omniscient narrator and the traditional archetype of the hero’s journey to show how everyone desires to be remembered as a hero. In the midst of his battle with Grendel’s mom, Beowulf’s sword fails him “Hygelac’s kinsman kept thinking about his name and his fame: he never lost his heart. Then, in a fury, he flung his sword away… he would have to rely on the might of his arm. So must a man do who intends to gain enduring glory in a combat. Life doesn’t cost him a thought.” (Heaney, 107). The use of the omniscient narrator places a degree of separation between Beowulf and those who hear his tales. In this instance, the narrator shows how Beowulf doesn’t think about his own survival for even a second, that his first instinct is to continue the fight until one side is dead. This adds the tone of moral superiority, telling the reader that Beowulf is not worried about himself, only the task. Many people are not so selfless and will thus see Beowulf as exceptional, as a hero. During the banquet thrown shortly after Beowulf arrives at the land of the Danes, Beowulf makes a formal boast “I had a fixed purpose when I put out to sea.
As I sat in my boat with my band of men, I meant to perform to the uttermost what your people wanted or perish in the attempt, in the fiend’s clutches. And I shall prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead hall.” (Heaney, 43). Beowulf proudly tells of his call to adventure, the beginning of his hero’s journey. The reader sees Beowulf as someone confident and proud to be summoned for this adventure. He says it himself that he is determined to be a hero, that he will emerge victorious from his fight with Grendel or he will die, with honor, trying. He announces this to the entire banquet hall to let them all know that he is the brave savior that will save them all from Grendel’s reign of terror and that they should remember him as such. Beowulf is determined to possess the legacy of a great hero and, unlike many others who wish the same, actually obtains it.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales uses its frame story and the irony that it causes to show how everyone wants to be seen as a hero. Chaucer’s tale is composed of individual stories that are each told by a different character on the pilgrimage to Canterbury and then contained within a frame narrative told by a characterized version of the author, providing an outside, semi-omniscient perspective. This particular setup allows for dramatic irony to be featured prominently throughout the events. The Canterbury Tales starts with a general prologue, in which Chaucer introduced all of the pilgrims and explains their histories before they began their journey. During the prologue, Chaucer informs the reader of the Pardoner’s greedy schemes “And with these relics, when he had to hand some poor parson living on the land, In one day he gathered in more money than the parson in a month of Sundays.” (Chaucer, 25).
It is revealed in the Pardoner’s section of the general prologue that he is a greedy man who scams the poor and destitute into buying fake religious relics and then pocketing the money. Which is ironic, because the Pardoner’s own tale warns the other pilgrims about the dangers of greed. The Pardoner tells of three friends who end up killing each other after they find a sack of gold coins. The three then end up killing each other as the results of botched schemes to secure more of the riches for himself. The Pardoner then ends his tale “Now good men, God forgive you your trespass, and shield you from the sin of avarice!” (Chaucer, 415). The Pardoner tries to display himself as a man of morals, but Chaucer exposes his true intentions. While the other pilgrims may think that the pardoner is of greed, the frame narrative tells the reader that he isn’t. The dramatic irony that occurs as a result of this affirms the idea that everyone wants to be remembered as a hero. The Pardoner may not actually save the souls of the poor with his relics or turn those away from sin, but he certainly wants his peers to think that he does.
The Hunger Games film uses camera angles and acting to show how Katniss wishes to be seen as the hero of her own story, not the the character that the Capitol wants her to be. In the film, Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place as a tribute in the annual Hunger Games, in which children from the twelve districts of Panem fight to the death until there is one victor. During the television interviews of all of the tributes before the games, Peeta was encouraged to speak publicly about his crush on Katniss. After he finishes, Katniss is furious with him, saying he made her “look weak”, to which their mentor, Haymitch, responds “No, he made you look desirable”, which makes Katniss calm down, but appear hesitant (The Hunger Games). The body language shown in this scene reveals a lot about Katniss’ inner conflict. The viewer first sees the rage in her features when she thinks she’s appeared weak. It shows how she wants to appear as a strong heroine, a heroine that isn’t afraid of anything.
When she is corrected by Haymitch, she appears hesitant. It exhibits how she doesn’t want to pander to the wealthy citizens of the Capitol, but understands that she needs their support to survive the games. She wants to be remembered as a hero, and she needs to win in order to do so. When Katniss and Peeta are the final two left in the games, Peeta suggests that Katniss kill him so she can be the victor. Katniss refuses and suggests a suicide pact instead. Right as the two are about to eat the poisonous berries, however, the camera pans down on Katniss, who is looking expectantly at the sky (The Hunger Games). The perspective shown be the camera gives the viewer a small glimpse into her thought process that no one else is seeing, the calculation of her actions. Katniss knows that the game makers won’t allow for both of them to die, that they will let the two tributes win. This shows how Katniss doesn’t want to be the kind of hero that the Capitol will allow, the kind that comes at the price of Peeta’s life. She wants to be remembered as the girl who beat them at their own game, who outsmarted them.
Heroism is often the ruler by which all good deeds are measured, so it is something that many people strive for. That is something that the characters in the aforementioned texts have exhibited in their stories. It is not an easy thing to achieve and an even harder thing to be remembered for, many great people have existed in the world, but not very many of them have received recognition. But the heroes who’s stories withstand the test of time are admired for centuries, continuing their impact on the world years after their deaths. That is why these characters put so much energy into crafting their heroic legacies, even if they aren’t always deserving of one. Afterall, who’s to say the person that actually existed is more genuine than the one who is remembered.