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A man with sinewy muscles, who fought wolves and demons, and protected the weak and women, has been central to the idea of a hero across patriarchic cultures. This theme can still be seen in cultures where morals, religion and other societal constructs hold their power over people, especially in Africa, Middle East and South Asia.
While such a hero certainly stems out of the popular opinion of what a man must be, the Greeks had a slightly different opinion of what a hero was. The hero would ideally be someone who would possess great physical and mental strength and would display courage and self-sacrifice in the face of adversities. In modern media, the hero is an ordinary person who prevails in the end in spite of all the odds stacked against him. To make things a little more appealing, the hero is usually sexualized, as that sells.
Nevertheless, it also reveals the unconscious human need for someone to look up to, physically and in an idealistic way. However, such heroes rarely exist and a “hero searching” would usually end in disappointing realization of the tragedy that makes a hero. The hero would always come with his package of guilt, weaknesses, regret, and other such negative entities. A genre of literature that addressed the darker and more sublime side of the hero was the Gothic literature.
While today a Gothic person is understood as someone who wears black and listens to Gothic music, with idiosyncratic behaviour, there is certainly more to the Gothic hero than just someone who dresses up in the “Goth” way, or someone who lives what is expected out of Goths. The Gothic Hero was usually caught between the struggle between the good and the evil, and the struggle between the known and the unknown in the universe.
The unknown usually consisted of unexplainable elements, supernatural situations and beings, horrific reality, sexual perversions and violence. The Gothic Hero was similar to the Byronic Hero and usually displayed an exceptional level of cunning and intelligence. Usually self critical and cynical, he rarely attempted to show any sort of support for established institutions and social norms. He rebelled against authority, and dwelled on the power of seduction and sexuality.
His mysteriousness, enigmatic and addictive darkness attracted both men and women, which resulted in sexual depravity. The Gothic Hero usually alternated between mania and depression, and held terrible secrets, and horrifying past guilt and memories. He would use his power to seduce, manipulate and often destroy people around him.
However, the Gothic Hero did not inspire repugnance or distaste in the reader, and instead he was identified with or even supported for his actions. The Gothic Hero received sympathy for the control that dark and unseen forces possessed over his body, mind and soul. The hero would usually suffer in the hands of goodness. The goodness in this case was usually a socially accepted act like the marriage, or adoption, or such other well received and well accepted by everyone.
These popular and often positive actions usually strangulated the gothic hero to the point of turning him psychotic. With this, it is easier to understand why the Gothic Hero remained a hero, in spite of all the dark and sullen qualities he possessed. Animal sexuality, predatory instincts, seclusion, madness, tormented soul, burning id desires and the failure to comply with authority; these were the hallmarks of a Gothic Hero and the cause for his downfall.
Unfortunately, his downfall was not because of his inherent evil, but because of the evil present in the good. The Gothic Hero was the victim of goodness, and all things moralistic. His popularity stems from the fact that the reader identified with him. He was more real than the idealistic hero who fought demons and made exceptional love to women.
The Gothic Hero and his association with darker forces, graves, and perversions was a way people could come to terms with their own obsessions about sex, fighting the authority and suffocation of morals and ethics, and other human qualities deemed good by the society. The reader saw a reflection of his or her own mind in the Gothic Hero, and his destruction in the novel allowed the reader to come to terms with their own darker desires and urges.
His travails helped the reader to accept their impulses and not let the super ego and ego snuff a mercurial and lively id. Romanticism and gothic genre are intricately related, and in fact, the Gothic Hero is a romantic figure, but only excessively darker than the human ego or conscious can handle. The Gothic Hero is the epitome of id’s impulses and the tragedy of being a victim of goodness.
The struggle between duality, and even multiple dimensions of human mind, and reality have continued and would continue among people. In modern days, the commercialization of the Goth may have reduced the Gothic Hero to a pop culture pin-up boy. However, the sustained popularity of this dark figure reveals the very dark and sullen nature of human beings, which they find difficult to accept.