A cultural hero has always played a major role in narration as an essential element thereof. However, as time passed, the effects, which a cultural hero has on the audience, seem to have changed. Whereas previously, the role of a cultural hero concerned serving as an example for the readers to follow, modern cultural heroes seem to provide emotional and spiritual support for the audience, allowing the latter to explore their own personalities in depth.
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In A Small Place, for example, the cultural heroes are described as martyrs to the regime that colonial Antigua represented at the time. The specified approach, while making the cultural heroes depicted in the narration very vulnerable, nevertheless, allows the reader to drive parallels between the humble, non-threatening approach of the Antiguan residents to promoting personal rights and freedoms and the Christian principle of nonviolent resistance: “Of course, I now see that good behavior is the proper posture of the weak, of children” (Kincaid 30). In other words, the author transforms the idea of a cultural hero into one of a “moral hero” (McLeod 89), which aligns with the key tenets of the Christian morality and the Christian faith in general.
Manzano renders the concept of Christian qualities in the cultural hero form a slightly different perspective, offering the readers to consider the idea of using Christian beliefs as the means of facing injustice and fighting it in a more specific manner. For instance, the author makes it very clear from the start that Juan, the lead character, is a religious person: “When I was already ten years old and knowledgeable in all that a woman could teach me about religion, I would recite not only the entire catechism by heart but also almost all of Fray Luis of Granada’s sermons” (Manzano 49). By giving his character identity of a believer, Manzano creates the ties between the reader and Juan, thus, making the inspirational role of the cultural hero even more explicit. Likewise, Roumain outlines the significance of spirituality and emotional connection between the protagonist and the reader by exploring the cultural shock that the Haiti residents suffer.
The stages of exile and return, which occur in each of the stories mentioned above, also contribute to the creation of an entirely new type of cultural hero, who can be defined as a luminal one. Particularly, the trials and tribulations, which the characters in each of the narrations have to undergo in order to gain an understanding of the world and themselves, contribute to the character development, therefore, making the so-called luminal hero to be created. The key features of the latter can be traced in the lead characters quite easily; for instance, Manzano’s cultural hero, Juan, has to face numerous troubles before he is finally released from his slavery and gains freedom that he was always longing for. Particularly, the punishments that he takes once a misunderstanding with the beggar occurs deserves to be mentioned; in a way, this punishment can be considered the symbol of martyrdom and, therefore, the threshold that Juan needs to cross in order to realize how hard he needs to fight for his rights. In fact, the narrator himself mentions the concept of martyrdom at some point: “This penance was so frequent that a week did not go by in which I did not suffer this kind of punishment two or three times. In the countryside, I always endured the same martyrdom” (Manzano, 59).
Finally, the concept of exile and return also shines through in Roumain’s Masters of the Dew: the author describes the despair, which Juan experiences as the coumbite disintegrates and its members no longer feel responsible for it, as well as for retaining their identity: “How far things were from the good old days of the coumbite, from the virile joyous chant of the menfolk” (Roumain 112).
The significance of intellectual life in the development of the role of the image of a cultural hero in the above-mentioned novels is also not to be underestimated. In fact, one of the novels spells the role of intellectualism in the fight for freedom out by mentioning the intellectual movement in the book directly. To be more exact, in Masters of the Dew, the lead character starts the movement that would, later on, reinvent the concept of labor and create the so-called coumbite, which will promote not only economic but also cultural growth of the state by helping the local residents reconcile with their past and their heritage: “Then we’ll call a General Assembly of the Masters of the Dew, a great big coumbite of farmers” (Roumain 75).
It should be noted, though, that the specified characteristic feature of a cultural hero should be attributed to not only the Haitian characters created by Roumain but also Manzano’s lead character, as the latter tries to locate his place in the society. True, the setting, in which the character in question places his lead, does not presuppose a conflict between the local culture and the foreign one, which is foisted onto the Haitian residents. However, the desperate search for an identity and an attempt to gain a better perspective of the way, in which the world works, can be traced easily in Manzano’s attempts at becoming a member of the society: “When I was almost six, and more clever than the others, I was sent to school at the home of my Baptismal godmother, Trinidad de Zayas” (Manzano 49). The author shows that, even in the face of slavery and a complete absence of any freedoms whatsoever, he used every single opportunity to gain more knowledge and becoming more intelligent. Therefore, the cultural hero, as he is portrayed in the works of Kincaid, Manzano, and Roumain, is no longer guided solely by his emotions – instead, he searches for the means of educating himself in order to fight the social injustice and demand equity.
In other words, the shift in the role of a cultural hero in a narrative shows the tendency for the characters to become more relatable. By displaying their flaws, the characters portrayed in the novels appeal to the reader, as these flaws add human characteristics to them. The hero, in its traditional understanding as an invulnerable and indestructible machine of justice, seems to have been washed away by the sands of time completely. Instead, a new type of a cultural hero emerges, incorporating the characteristics of a martyr and a fighter, this kind of a cultural hero makes an intellectual effort along with the physical one in order to attain his goals.
One might argue that the role of the cultural hero in the above-mentioned narrations is overly romanticized. On some level, the argument concerning the idealization of these characters can be considered as valid, since none of them is ever portrayed as bitter or angry. However, it is reasonable to assume that the idealization of these characters is a part of the authors’ intent, as the former are not supposed to be used as the exact model for the readers to follow when facing injustice.
Indeed, compared to the historical figures, such as King Christophe, Che Guevara, etc. the characters mentioned above can be considered rather mild and peace-loving in their attempts at restoring social justice. However, the ability of these characters to negotiate and to use reason and intelligence in their endeavors at restoring justice can be viewed as a rather positive alteration of the cultural hero image. Relying on reason rather than brutal force, the cultural hero of Kincaid, Manzano, and Roumain creates the premises for further peacemaking and reconciliation between the members of different cultures.
The role of the cultural hero in the specified texts, therefore, can be interpreted as an inspirational one. While it would be wrong to assume that every reader will follow the example of the characters mentioned above, the readers will able to relate to these characters and, therefore, believe in themselves. The above-mentioned role of cultural heroes is the key reason for making the latter so relatable. Instead of creating an unrealistic image of a hero that cannot possibly be defeated, every author mentioned above shows the weaknesses of the characters. Thus, the efforts made by these characters in order to overcome their weaknesses and fight for what they believe in becoming all the more significant.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1988. Print.
Manzano, Juan Francisco. The Autobiography of a Slave. Trans. Evelyn Picon Garfield. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 196. Print.
McLeod, Korinna. “Constructing a Nation: Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place.” Small Axe 28.1 (2009): 77–92. Print.
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Roumain, Jacques. Masters of the Dew. Trans. Langston Hughes and Mercer Cook. Pompano Beach, FL: Educa Vision Inc., 2012. Print.