Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate October 2001

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In popular culture today, the hero is someone who does something extraordinary. The hero is that person who pushes the child out of the way of the car, or who rescues someone from a fire. A hero is a person who devotes his or her life to fighting the WTO or to teaching impoverished children to read.

But what makes a hero a hero? Before looking at the different ways in which German literature deals with heroes, there must be some way found of identifying whether a character in a story is a hero or not. Some of the stories include blunt indications that the main characters should be considered heroes. An example of that is Kafka's "An Everyday Heroism". Other stories, like Kleist's "An Earthquake in Chili" include one or more people who stand out above all the rest as being wonderful examples of heroes.

In some stories there are other signs which seem to signify that the characters are not meant to be heroes, or that the author would like to draw our attention to the fact that the line between being a hero and being an everyday human is very blurry.

This essay will look at those as well. The question of who is a hero is inexplicably tied up in the question of who humans are, and who humans should be. In stories such as "The Rock Crystal" we are shown that humans can live out a good life, and heroism is unnecessary. Humans are naturally good, or can all be taught to be so, and that is all they need to be. In "Rock Crystal" the children who survive the mountain storm are not awed by their survival, but rather "bewildered by all the bustle" 1 for the heroic characteristics are considered by them to...