The word “Hero” as a literary device is commonly used to describe the main character of a story. However, the word relates to a rather specific kind of protagonist. A hero is someone who is willing to face dangers and opposition while displaying feats of moral integrity, bravery, and strength. These qualities are admired throughout many cultures and are found in many characters no matter what the genre, time, or country are. However, cultural and historical factors play an important role when delivering the message.
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Most authors write their works through the prism of contemporary worldviews. A fictional hero is often a projection of the author in an imaginative world. It is a vessel, which carries out the writer’s thoughts and opinions. In order to understand a literary hero, one should analyze not only the story and the hero. The time and culture during which a book or a story is written have to be considered. This paper is going to analyze Candide – the main hero of Voltaire’s satire written in the year 1759, and Tripitaka from The Journey to the West – a Chinese novel from the 16th century.
Candide is a relatively classical hero. He is a genuinely good-natured character, generous and honest. This is demonstrated many times throughout the story. He readily gives money to a deposed and impoverished King and to Brother Giroflee (Voltaire 75). He also stays committed to marrying Cunegonde, even though his desire and love for her are long gone (Voltaire 92). However, being a classical hero is not the sole purpose of this character. Voltaire uses Candide in order to rebuke the wide-eyed idealism of Leibniz teachings. His story is that of naive innocence, which does not survive the confrontation with the harsh realities of the world. He is a bland character, though sympathetic.
The author did not intend to make him independent. The name Candide means “White” or “Blank” to illustrate the point. He is like a blank sheet of paper, and stronger characters are able to write whatever they want on it. The topics raised in the story correlate with the realities of the world in the year 1759. It is said that Voltaire became disillusioned with the concept of optimism after a series of terrible events in the world, starting with the Seven Year’s war and ending with the earthquake that leveled Lisbon to the ground. These tragedies caused many scholars to revoke their belief in Leibniz’s teachings. Candide was created to demonstrate this.
Tripitaka is one of the main heroes of The Journey to the West – a Chinese 16th-century novel allegedly written by Wu Cheng’en. He is a stereotypical Buddhist monk. He shares some similarities with Voltaire’s Candide – they are both somewhat naive, kind, and good-natured. Both of them are easily swayed by other peoples’ opinions. Many people influence Candide, swinging his opinions back and forth. He is unable to form his own conclusions and resorts to parroting whichever viewpoint seems right to him.
Tripitaka is constantly fooled and deceived either by demons or by Ba Jie. His own judgment is poor. However, there is a great difference between the two characters. Candide is a vessel meant to debunk a theory. Tripitaka is an accomplished character that represents a belief in benevolence, kindness, and spiritualism.
These core beliefs are the foundation of Buddhism – a prevalent religion in China. Tripitaka’s benevolence is shown through his desire to help and assist everyone he meets along the way. His compassion is his foil. The demons such as the Red Child use it to lure him into traps (Cheng’en 206). However, not only do these teachings endure, but they also change his companions for the better. Thus, the message of the story is a positive one. The Journey to the West is a novel that encompasses many tenets of Chinese life, worldview, and spirituality. It has deep roots in the local mythos, which is the reason why its popularity was so enduring.
Through these two examples, it is possible to see how much the heroes are influenced by those who create them. Through a study of culture and history, the readers would be able to understand the underlying motives of the heroes and the messages that the authors are trying to leave behind. With no context, a lot of important information would be lost. Voltaire’s work was very influential during its own time. If the readers are not aware of its historical background, however, they would be given the impression that the story is just as detached from the real world as the hero and thus have no relevance to the modern world.
Without the knowledge of Buddhism, the readers would not be able to understand the motivations behind the actions of Tripitaka and his traveling companions. Every piece of literature carries an imprint of its respective historical period, whether regarding behavior, opinions, or worldview. Without all of this, the experience of reading and understanding any story, novel, or book would not be complete.
Cheng’en, Wu. Journey to the West. 2013.