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Portrayals of Heroism in Two Short Stories

David Quammen, in the short story "Walking Out," and Carol Bly, in the short story "Talk of Heroes," portray a hero as an individual who forgets himself, and his own suffering, in order to think of another person and act in a way which is meant to help that other person. This choice of the other over the self seems in both stories to be a feat of great will and independent thought, as if placing another above oneself is an act which defies some drive for self-preservation within. While both of these stories portray heroism in this light, there are important differences between those two portrayals, differences which, along with similarities, will be discussed here.

Quammen tells the story of the coming-of-age and coming-of-heroism David, an eleven-year-old boy. The story is specifically about his learning to separate himself from his father and his father's powerful influence (as well as his mother's influence). In the context of heroism, this discovery of himself and his strength is utterly vital to his own survival, as he carries his father's body miles in great suffering. He completes this heroic feat in order to save his father, but, ironically, his father is long dead and he saves himself inadvertently through his love for his father.

Willi Varig, the hero in Bly's story, is a grown man, both when the reader meets him and back when he performed his act of heroism. His act, unlike David's, does save lives other than his own, or at least that is what the story suggests. Unlike David, Willi is a rather hardened character, a drunk (although it appears he became such after the horrible torture he endured), and a man who has paid a high toll for his heroism. One does not know, on the other hand, how David's terrible experience will affect him.

At the beginning of Quammen's story, David is shown to be a young boy who does everything he is told by his parents. He lives according to his parents' desires, and his passive natur...

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Portrayals of Heroism in Two Short Stories. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:10, April 21, 2019, from