Literature Analysis Basics

    Hero Classification

    What is the hero fighting for?  This question helps readers define the type of hero in a piece of literary fiction.  Hero figures in Western literature are classified as either Greek or Roman.  A Greek hero fights to fulfill his or her nature, whereas a Roman hero fights to fulfill his or her duty.

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    Master Plots

    In most pieces of literature, we can identify one of two primary master plots, from which secondary plots proceed.  These two master plots can be described as 1) A Stranger Comes to Town and 2) A Hero Takes a Journey.  As you begin your literary analysis, see if you can identify which of these two master plots is in play.  This initial assessment helps focus your analysis and helps you infer meaning from the text.  If the work's master plot is A Stranger Comes to Town, the work might be suggesting something about culture assumptions, societal response to change, or unexamined biases.  Master plots of A Hero Takes a Journey often reflect themes individual desire and destiny, the power of the unconscious, or human frailty.

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    The Hemingway Code

    Hemingway's protagonists are usually "Hemingway Code Heroes," figures who try to follow a hyper-masculine moral code and make sense of the world through those beliefs.  Hemingway himself defined the "Code Hero" as "a man who lives correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always painful."

    This code hero typically embodies the following traits:

    (1) Measuring himself against the difficulties life throws in his way, realizing that we will all lose ultimately because we are mortals.  They play the game honestly and passionately in spite of that knowledge;

    (2) Facing death with dignity and enduring physical and emotional pain in silence;

    (3) Never publicly showing emotions;

    (4) Maintaining free-will and individualism and never weakly allowing commitment to a single woman or social convention to prevent adventure, travel, and acts of bravery;

    (5) Being completely honest and keeping one's word or promise;

    (6) Being courageous and brave;

    (7) Daring to travel and have "beautiful adventures," as Hemingway would phrase it;

    (8) Admitting the truth of Nada (Spanish for nothing), i.e. that no external source outside of oneself can provide meaning or purpose. This existential awareness also involves facing death without hope of an afterlife, which the Hemingway Code Hero considers more brave than "cowering" behind false religious hopes.

    The Hemingway Code Hero typically has some sort of physical or psychological wound symbolizing his tragic flaw or the weaknesses of his character, which must be overcome before he can prove his manhood (or re-prove it, since the struggle to be honest and brave is a continual one).   Also, many Hemingway Code Heroes suffer from a fear of the dark, which represents the transience or meaninglessness of life the face of eventual and permanent death.

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