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The monster leaps from building to building, his gigantic hands swinging him onto the snake-like aliens. The conflict ensues. After the dust settles, only one figure remains. The hulking giant is the victor once more. The astounding battle scenes depicted in the film The Avengers has partially contributed to the movie’s major success. However, the film’s gross revenue of over a billion dollars is mainly due to the dynamic heroes the picture portrays. The green beast, named the Hulk, is a relatable individual, representing the characteristics idealized by the American society. In human form, the Hulk is actually the very sensible, intelligent Bruce Banner, who constantly battles against his own fiery temper. In addition to enthralling fans, the Hulk is a modern archetype of an epic hero. No matter the time period of the literature, all epic heroes share common characteristics. These individuals are of noble birth or maintain a crucial role in their societies, determining the fates of others, displaying the values idealized by their communities, and performing courageous deeds.
The literary term “epic hero” originated in days of old, when such epic poems as Beowulf were originally popular. The protagonist of this Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, is extremely similar to the Hulk, since this ancient warrior is also symbolic of his civilization’s ideals. Thus, both the epic heroes Beowulf, from the epic poem Beowulf, and the Hulk, from The Avengers film, highlight the contrasting significance of noble blood, illustrate the shared emphasis on physical strength between the two cultures, and display the differing motivations of courageous deeds in the Anglo-Saxon and modern American civilizations.
As epic heroes, Beowulf stresses the necessity of powerful family relations in Anglo-Saxon society, while Banner’s humble roots and prominent social role illustrate the insignificance of ancestry in the American culture. Unlike Banner, Beowulf’s essential position in Anglo-Saxon society is partially due to his noble relatives, in addition to his role as a warrior. Beowulf is the nephew of King Higlac, ruler of the ancient Geats. This emphasis on nobility is a key trait of the Anglo-Saxon culture, wherein warriors maintain loyalty for their highly ranked leaders. In fact, Beowulf’s position as a prince largely contributes to his warrior status. When Beowulf decides to battle Grendel, an evil monster who has murdered thousands of soldiers, the hero first utilizes his prestige to earn the king’s permission (Beowulf 127-159).
The hero’s aristocratic ancestry enables Beowulf to change the fate of the Anglo-Saxon society from doom to liberation. Thus, the hero’s nobility enables him to fulfill the first and second criterion of an epic hero, being of noble blood and determining the destinies of others. Therefore, nobility and social status are key aspects of the Anglo-Saxon culture. In utter contrast to Beowulf, the Hulk’s classification as an epic hero is due to his imperative role as a protector of the current American civilization, rather than noble blood. The Hulk fulfills his warrior position in the film The Avengers, majorly contributing to the defeat of Loki, a powerful demigod. In one battle of the movie, the Hulk prevents Loki’s minions from overtaking New York City and the world, aiding in the path to victory (The Avengers). In doing so, the Hulk fulfills an invaluable position in his society, changing the destinies of millions to billions of individuals. Ergo, the Hulk highlights the American emphasis on the individual and the lack of focus on family connections, all while satisfying the first and second qualifications of an epic hero. Hence, both the epic heroes Beowulf and the Hulk highlight the emphasis each society maintains on either nobility or societal contributions.
The epic heroes Beowulf and the Hulk also display a characteristic that is valued in both societies: unparalleled physical strength. Throughout the poem, Beowulf easily completes physically-taxing duties. In one instance, Beowulf smites Grendel’s mother with a massive sword blessed by giants, which no ordinary man should be able to wield (Beowulf 513-519). As a result, Beowulf is the archetype of strength. This ideal is highly valued in the ancient Anglo-Saxon society, which was once rife with war, bloodshed, and instability. Thus, Beowulf embodies valued traits of his respective civilization, satisfying another requirement of being an epic hero. The Hulk also fulfills this standard through his embodiment of the very same quality that Beowulf maintains. In present-day American society, citizens continue to value bodily strength. As a model of this characteristic, the Hulk’s stature is huge. In the film The Avengers, the green giant hurls cars as one would effortlessly toss rocks (The Avengers). Hence, the Hulk symbolizes physical strength, which is highly valued in the American culture. This admiration of bodily abilities is highlighted in the hero’s society through the popular nature of football, a sport that is arguably similar to war. In this manner, the Hulk meets yet another qualification of epic heroes, representing an ideal valued by his society. Therefore, both the epic heroes Beowulf and the Hulk exemplify great strength, an idealized quality in their respective civilizations.
Both the epic heroes Beowulf and the Hulk have performed a variety of incredibly courageous deeds, earning contrasting rewards based on the accepted ambitions of each character’s place of origin. Beowulf, for instance, chooses to swim to the bottom of a demon-infested lake to defeat a sea-hag. In return for the protagonist’s bravery, the king of the Danes provides Beowulf with a mountain of treasures (Beowulf 410-441). The reward earned by the hero demonstrates that the Anglo-Saxons were once incentivized by physical wealth throughout their daily lives, while Beowulf’s courageous deed contributes to his classification as an epic hero. In contrast, the Hulk performs brave acts without receiving a large palpable reward in return. Banner actually conceals himself in a poor Indian village during the first moments of the The Avengers movie, seeking to avoid special recognition. In one particular scene of the film, the Hulk propels himself into battle against Loki and his alien comrades, with the only possible reward being the opportunity to aid the innocent (The Avengers). Consequently, the Hulk’s courageous acts as an epic hero proves that Americans are motivated by unselfish heroism in their day-to-day lives, striving to protect the innocent without receiving any compensation. Based on this, the Hulk has met another classifications of being an epic hero, since he performs brave acts. Moreover, Beowulf highlights the Anglo-Saxon value of physical treasure, while the Hulk displays the American ideal of altruistic bravery.
Beowulf and the Hulk are the epitomes of epic heroes, exposing the differing ideals of the Anglo-Saxon and American cultures. Both of these individuals influence the fates of millions of people, which is one of the various criterion of an epic hero. However, Beowulf’s family relations have resulted in his social status, while the Hulk’s personal actions have resulted in his crucial role as a protector of the American public. Thus, in fulfilling the second characteristic of epic heroes, being of noble birth or of high importance to society, Beowulf exposes the Anglo-Saxon value of family relations, while the Hulk stresses the American ideal of personal action. Moreover, the two warriors are both incredibly strong, illustrating a trait that is highly valued in the Anglo-Saxon and American cultures. By symbolizing an idealized quality of their respective communities, the two characters fulfill yet another requirement of being an epic hero.
Beowulf and the Hulk satisfy the last qualification by performing courageous deeds. The reward each hero receives as compensation also reflects the ambitions of each society, with Anglo-Saxons stressing the motivation of physical wealth and Americans emphasizing the ambition of aiding those in danger. Hence, both Beowulf and the Hulk provide insight into their respective cultures. Based on these four characteristics of an epic hero, readers are able to immerse themselves into the days of old, comprehending the differing ideals and ambitions that were once present in the ancient Anglo-Saxon community. In addition, such current epic heroes as the Hulk allow the readers to truly analyze modern society and its faults, enabling the pursuit of improvements. Future epic heroes will continue to imitate the traits of such characters as Beowulf and the Hulk, providing the insight necessary to enable the continued betterment of the human race. Therefore, both Beowulf, from the epic poem Beowulf, and the Hulk, from The Avengers film, are the embodiments of the Anglo-Saxon and modern American cultures, illustrating the differing significance of noble blood, the civilizations’ shared emphasis on physical strength, and the variations in the ambitions that generate courageous deeds in each society.
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