What Is the Function of a Hero in Our Society?

Society searches for heroes who possess the qualities we admire most.

Throughout history, societies have developed myths and legends of heroes and heroines. These heroes represent the values and beliefs that society admires most. From ancient Greek heroes to modern-day heroes depicted in movies, television and graphic novels, the public's desire for hero-worship remains undiminished.

1 Beyond Ordinary

Heroes go beyond what is humanly possible, and may be attributed supernatural qualities.

Heroes possess qualities or strengths that are beyond those of ordinary people. Societies attribute the skills and traits that they admire most to these characters. Because the hero's capabilities are often beyond what is humanly possible, many of these characters are fictional.

2 Necessity of Heroes

Everyone needs a hero at some point.

"One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being," writes poet May Sarton. This quote explains why societies continue to idolize the heroic and even create fictional characters if they cannot find real-life heroes. Heroes serve as models of the best in humanity. Poet Bertolt Brecht explains the consequences of society's existence without heroic characters, stating, "Unhappy is the land without heroes."

3 The Flawed Hero

Heroes often make difficult decisions.

Societies and cultures crave real-life heroes to intervene in their daily lives. As a result, firefighters, military personnel, surgeons and others who work in professions of life-saving are often referred to as heroes in public media. The meaning even extends to figures such as CEOs or athletes. Human heroes have human flaws, however. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is an example of an idolized athlete who tarnished his role-model/hero image when he was photographed smoking marijuana, showing how real-life as well as imagined heroes often are imperfect and flawed.

4 The Anti-hero

The hero has extraordinary skills, but his choices are not always simple. Literature includes examples of tragic heroes who made unfortunate choices, and modern media has similar examples. These characters in film, television and other media are called anti-heroes. Although they possess the prowess of heroes, their behavior is sometimes unheroic or overly self-centered. The anti-hero status may be the consequence of a complicated/controversial decision the character makes. The concept of an anti-hero also reflects society's struggle to balance compassion and justice with a desire for revenge and retribution.

Miriam Breeze, a freelance writer since 2009, is a 12-year Marine Corps veteran and was a merchant mariner for five years. She specializes in health care topics and has published articles on eHow.com and Answerbag.com. She has a Bachelor of Science in nursing from National University and a California registered nursing license.