Many would say that these are examples of our modern-day heroes. More than not, the individual that society characterizes as a hero must embody the morals that the society find to be most important. If we take America, for example, patriotism is a highly valued quality. Both Thor and an American Army soldier are exemplified as heroes because they are willing to die to defend the country that they love. That being said, the hero archetype has been integrated into society long before the blockbuster films.
Looking back further into history, Arjuna and Achilles are found. Arjuna is the embodiment of an Eastern hero while Achilles represents a Western hero. Though these characters are infinitely different from one another, they share the title of a hero. To analyze the highest values of a culture, one must first analyze their said heroes and their actions related to certain circumstances. These circumstances include how the hero deals with conflicts between himself, outside forces and nature.
First and foremost, a conflict within one’s self is a consistent theme within both Eastern and Western literature. A conflict within the self is characterized by an internal struggle that the hero must fight against to achieve what they seek. In the case of Achilles, he seeks fame and power but is constantly fighting against his pride. The Iliad paints an image of Achilles as being ruled by his emotions. He is extremely petulant when things do not go his way. He has a terrible temper and seeks vengeance of those who wrong him. That being said, Achilles also shows his loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for those that he loves. Arjuna is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. While Achilles is ruled primarily by his emotions, Arjuna seeks enlightenment. This quest for enlightenment requires that Arjuna be detached from the world. Grief, temptation, and earthly desires are all to be avoided or ignored to reach the detached state that he seeks. This struggle that Arjuna has within himself is depicted through his hesitance to fight against his family despite the urgings of Krishna. The two heroes both struggle internally to fulfil their duty. While Achilles uses his emotions to be a better warrior, Arjuna must might against his emotions to reach the detached state that he seeks. This allows one to infer that Western cultures value emotions as a humanistic quality that makes one who they are, and in some cases even works to their advantage. The Eastern culture, in contrast, values level headedness and composure.
Secondly, the heroes, Achilles and Arjuna, are faced with the conflict of an outside force. In the case of Achilles, he is faced with a conflict between King Agamemnon over a war prize. Rather than bowing to Agamemnon’s position of authority, Achilles simply refuses to fight against the Trojans. In Book I, Achilles is quoted saying: By this scepter I swear; When every last Greek desperately misses Achilles, Your remorse won’t do any good then, When Hector the man-killer swats you down like flies, And you will eat your heart out, Because you failed to honor the best Greek of them all. Rather than attempting to resolve the conflict, Achilles essentially prolongs it with his refusal to bend to Agamemnon’s will. In his quest, he directly goes against the established idea that kings are directly appointed by the gods. Arjuna, on the other hand, is faced with a conflict between himself and Krishna, a Hindu deity. Arjuna’s conflict is based on his empathetic nature which contrasts immensely to Achilles’ prideful nature. In chapter I of The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krishna: It grieves me that as we intend to murder our relatives in our green for pleasures, kingdoms, we are fixed on doing evil! After speaking this, Krishna reveals himself in his most divine form. Out of respect for the deity, Arjuna then acts according to the knowledge that Krishna has bestowed upon him; thus, the conflict is resolved almost as quickly as it began. Through these examples, it can be inferred that Western cultures place value in one’s pursuit of their own duty or authority while Eastern culture value adherence to their belief system and conformation to authority. Western culture’s today still show a certain level of value in this idea. The pursuit of fame and the practice of protest seem to be much more present within the Western cultures than the East. The same can be said about the value that Eastern cultures put into their belief systems. While not practiced as much today, honor killings that take place in mostly Eastern countries show that dishonor to one’s religion is deemed a lesser evil that killing someone for going against said belief systems.
Last, but not least, heroes are often confronted with a conflict between themselves and nature, specifically death. Achilles sees death as an avenue to figuratively achieve immortality. He seeks to make a name for himself that will last after death. This personal quest of his seemingly becomes the entire meaning of his life. Achilles would rather die renowned, at a young age, than to live obscurely into old age. Achilles pursuit of this notoriety seems to only cultivate his behavior to further differentiate himself from society. While convential warriors bow to the whim of their superior, Achilles seems to regard himself as his own master due to the power and strength he possesses. Regarding Arjuna, while the warrior accepts his bestowed role as a warrior, he believes in the spiritual cycle of reincarnation. This cycle relies heavily on karmic system of reward and consequence. Therefore, it is in Arjuna’s best interest to obey the laws of his gods.
By analyzing these heroes, it can be inferred that Western society treats death as something to overcome in a sense. By leaving a legacy, the fame of a person will last long after their demise, thus, leaving death almost powerless. For the Eastern hero, death is seen as a natural cycle of life. It is nothing to be feared, but rather embraced. Due to the belief in the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, Easter society values living one’s life according to the established principles to achieve good standing with the gods. While Achilles and Arjuna possess vastly different values and temperament, these heroes possess the morale of the cultures that they represent. Heroes traditionally represent all the qualities that a culture sees as being valuable. Through Achilles’ and Arjuna’s actions in the face of conflict, an image of the society that they come from can be seen.
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