Heroism and Gender in War Films

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War,Western, and action films typically center on male protagonists and male groups. Male mobility is a central trope of all three genres, one which repeatedly couples physical movement or scenes of action with themes of independence.

Heroism and Masculinities

The hero desires the freedom to move, challenging individuals, groups, and circumstances that present obstacles to such freedom; in some ways it is this tension or conflict that generates the narrative. Each operates in different yet related ways across frontiers, a motif which serves to mark the mobility of the masculine hero.

In this chapter I explore some of the visual and narrative strategies which delineate masculinity in different ways across these generic spaces. In framing issues such as violence and freedom of movement, paternalism and duty, hierarchies and teamwork, I aim to acknowledge both continuities and differences between and across these genres. Search all titles. Search all titles Search all collections.

Your Account Logout. Even if the actions are not always conclusive they often foster a basis for collective identification and influence the behaviour of the community. Either society idealize the deeds of the hero, projecting their desires on him, or, as often as not, this man is rejected and feared.

Nevertheless, this person sets himself against the meaningless and accepts his vices and virtues, eventually rising above the average man, due to his heroic powers. Although social connections and personal motivation have been changing continually during the last centuries, the hero still embodies universal characteristics and men like Paris, Agamemnon, Galahad or Lancelot reappear in literature continually, nourishing the image of the heroic warrior.

However, the latest movie about King Arthur pays heed to the figure of Guinevere as a female warrior and the book The Mists of Avalon also stresses the female perspective on the heroic character King Arthur.

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These stories are keen on depicting women as the driving forces behind strong men and as a consequence question the connection between masculinity and heroism. Women wage war against their traditionally subscribed roles, eventually posing the question about the importance of femininity and heroism. In order to solve this problem it seems helpful to illustrate how heroism and masculinity are traditionally linked. Continually altering circumstances, as for instance individual, cultural or historical conditions, show an impact on the concepts of masculinity and heroism.

Additionally, due to the binary opposition of the gender terms, also attributes associated with femininity play a vital role for the analysis. Thus, interested in exploring the relationship of masculinities and heroism, I focus on representations of these concepts in literature. The first part of my paper will deal with a theoretical outline of the terms masculinities and heroism and continue with the theoretical literary work On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle.

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The centre of attention in this works will shift from the general context of the period to the depiction of masculinity and heroism in the literary work. This analysis is followed by the final part of the work, which expounds these different manifestations and also accounts for aspects of femininity.

Table of Contents

As far as I am concerned, the feminist view holds true that strong men are always inspired by women. Besides, certain verbal expressions or experiences of society seem to foster the idea that various actions can contribute to the development of a boy into a man, suggesting that male behaviour does not come without help. There is no way of telling. Most, if not all, of our behaviour is learned. First of all a limitation of the term hero seems inevitable, as it frequently is applied in a relatively broad sense. On the one hand many a person, occupying the main part of a literary work, is often referred to as hero.

In literature, this person is determined as a narrative social construct, emerging out of a crisis or appearing by incidence, as things happen to him. Able to change the current situation by combining action and reflection and battling for the benefits of the community, he rises to heroism. Despite his vices and virtues, with which the hero has to struggle, certain universal characteristics obviously have eternal validity. Consequently, he functions as an ideal, representing the controlling ideas of the time.

As these ideas are dynamic, being influenced by historical, individual, cultural or sociological features, a more general definition of the term heroism seems problematic. The ideal of heroism undoubtedly is bound to various circumstances, like history or culture, and the average desirable expectations, projected upon the hero, are prone to change. Thus, it has to be renewed from epoch to epoch according to individual experiences or collective manifestations. These diverse representations of the hero and his heroism mainly originate in the acceptance of or the rejection by society.

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On the one hand the hero usually embodies a discourse of characteristics, which is highly estimated by a certain society at a certain time and which sets him apart from his fellows. Consequently, the examination of the hero-figure reveals the internal values of a society. He does the things we all wish we could do. He embodies the qualities that we wish we had. By contrast, however, the hero can also be restricted by social sanctions.

Afraid of the heroic powers of a formerly ordinary man, society aims to distance the hero.

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This power is traced back to the origin of the hero himself. There he was part man, part god or demon.

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  • As often as not, he is seen as a rebel or outlaw, facing misunderstandings, hostility and hatred, which leads to a conflict. Shocked and afraid by his mettle, they establish new boundaries to distance him and protect themselves. The hero himself changes in fundamental ways as the time changes.

    Already during the Victorian Age Thomas Carlyle, on of the most influential writers on critical matters of his time, accounts for the constant modification of the concept of the hero. Although aware that different epochs, conditions and nations can change the manifestations of the hero, he adheres to the enduring nature of hero-worship, due to this continuity and permanence of history. Social dissatisfaction, for instance represented in riots, reflects the need of the community for a hero.

    Only by hero-worship can they escape from their despair and isolation. As a consequence, the hero reacts to the signs of time and rises from obscurity to heroism. Subsequently, he fights with his tragic fate, aiming to improve the current world order.

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    Old English feudalism is characterized by virtues of tribal community, ties of loyalty between lord and liegeman, the significance of individual heroism and the power of fate. In this system the lord provides his men with entertainment, protection, nourishment and a place in the accepted hierarchy for which he receives their service. This masculine hierarchy of mutually accepted duties regards the loss of a patronage as the worst social misfortune.

    Heroism and Gender in War Films Heroism and Gender in War Films
    Heroism and Gender in War Films Heroism and Gender in War Films
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    Heroism and Gender in War Films Heroism and Gender in War Films
    Heroism and Gender in War Films Heroism and Gender in War Films

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