Monday, March 21, 2016

American Folk Heroes & Heroines

American Folk Heroes

  & Heroines Are Everywhere

American Folk heroes and heroines are everywhere. They are real, fictional or mythological people of the past and of the present. They are people we recognize by name, by personality and by deeds and are often the subject of films, literature, songs, tales and other elements of folklore.

These people run the gamut, from politicians and healers to scoundrels and loners. They are also known by their strengths which can take a variety of forms.

Some are historical public figures. An example of a folk heroine whose live was well documented was Dolley Madison, the 4th First Lady of the United States (President James Madison) who also occasionally acted as First Lady during the administration of the widowed President Thomas Jefferson. She was best known for furnishing the White House and for making it into a gathering place for both Democrats and Republicans. 

One other good example is Amelia Earhart. This aviation pioneer challenged prejudices and financial difficulties to become one of this country’s greatest women pilots. A tomboy, she went against conventional feminine she symbolized what women were capable of accomplishing.

Other folk heroes and heroines were private individuals whose lives were not documented for posterity. However, the work of these people did as much as those more public people to change the course of life for many. A good example of that would be Jonas Salk, the medical researcher and virologist who discovered the first successful polio vaccine in 1962. 

Fictional Folk Heroes/Heroines

And still there are fictional folk heroes and heroines whose deeds and personalities were or are larger than life. These characters reached mythic proportions. Think of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker or Rosy the Riveter who represents the strength and power of American women during World War II. It’s important to note here that these particular characters, while not real people, embody a composite of character traits that we American admire. These traits represent cultural values such as courage, honor, sacrifice and hard work.
Here are a few more examples of real American folk heroes and heroines:

Billy the Kid: He represents both the good and the bad of the Old West. Outside the law he was also brave and stood for individual freedom. He actually lived at a time when men made their own laws and solved their own problems, often with a gun. He took care of himself and was considered by many to be smart; he could read and write and learned to speak Spanish.  Billy the Kid was, above all else, admired because he wasn’t afraid of people who were more powerful than him.

Sitting Bull: He was a Native American leader who did not welcome European intrusions into his way of life. He was an inspirational leader and fearless warrior as well as loving father and a gifted singer. His spirituality gave him faith and insights that have guided many people since. Sitting Bull was credited with never signing a treaty to sell any portion of his people’s inheritance. He was perhaps best known as the man who victoriously led the fight against Colonel Custer’s forces in Custer’s Last Stand.

Most of these folk are not born as superstars. In fact they often begin life as everyday people who are transformed into extraordinary people by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters. In all cases they are individuals who have found a way to apply their particular character, beliefs and values in order to overcome adversity.
All folk heroes and heroines represent what is possible for the common man or woman; they offer a road map, so to speak, of how to keep moving in the face of oppression or corruption and are often the people we admire most and often aspire to be like.

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