American War By Omar El Akkad: The Idea Of A Hero
Throughout Mark Edmundson’s publication entitled Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals, readers are challenged about their idea of a hero in numerous ways. As discussed in the book, the concepts of war and heroism are often perceived hand-in-hand from the beginning of Greek literature to present-day.
In Omar El Akkad’s recent book titled American War, protagonist Sarat Chestnut’s pride, hunger for revenge, and willingness to sacrifice her life for her country are what classify her as a modern-day hero. Sarat’s pride laid in herself and her beliefs. “To the hero, pride is necessary for victory in battle – perhaps even for survival”. Sarat knew that in order to succeed, it was imperative that she possess the confidence in what she was doing and what she was fighting for. Additionally, Sarat was not the typical adolescent at this time. She knew she was different from most people her age, which helped her develop her proud mentality. The average female would not have been able to be a messenger for Albert Gaines like Sarat was; the average person would not have been able to withstand the torture Sarat endured at Sugarloaf, and the common person would not have decided to weaken and kill themselves for the good of their country. All of these defining circumstances made Sarat stand out from everyone else because she was brave enough to take them on. At one point in the story, Albert Gaines asks, “If you knew for a fact we were wrong, would it be enough to turn you against your people?” To which Sarat replied, “No”.
Sarat believed in who and what she was fighting for, and nothing could change her mind. On the other hand, some might have seen Sarat as a coward when she admitted to all of the crimes that she did not do at Sugarloaf, but it was still not done in vain. She realized that she had more life to live and more to fight for than what she nearly drowned for. When Sarat ultimately returned home from Sugarloaf, she was revered as somewhat of a hero, but only to Southerners and other individuals on her side of the war. Sarat came back a changed, somewhat foreign, woman. There was no tangible honor, but when people saw or encountered Sarat, they showed her reverence because they knew that she had been through unimaginable torture at Sugarloaf – all in the name of the Red Southerners. Coming home to Lincolnton proved to be a turning point in Sarat’s adult life. She discovered all that happened while she was gone, and she came to the realization that if no one else was going to fix the problem here, she would. Sarat was one of the very few who ever returned home from Sugarloaf, so she knew she had to be the one to stand up for all of the victims.
Sarat’s life was not a grand one full of bravery and saving lives, as is the typical hero’s. It was not until she was a little older that she discovered her strong-willed spirit and how to put it to good use to avenge her oppressors. It became obvious that Sarat was predestined to fight. She survived a mildly dark, war-torn childhood. Her experiences as a child mostly consisted of watching her neighbors get killed in Camp Patience – seeing people come and go, live and die, there. These moments in her adolescence shaped her and her perspective immensely. The more she began to retaliate in small-scale ways, the more she discovered that war came naturally to her. She had essentially been raised in a war zone, learning how to survive and fight for herself. Edmundson describes this heroic trait with, “The fighting men are not doing anything unnatural by fighting. . . War is as natural as the flight of bees”. War truly did come naturally to Sarat. She realized that she was able to put her skills and fighting spirit to use to fight the Northerners who had done her and her family wrong. Additionally, “. . . the hero who seeks the first place knows that one obligation eclipses all others: when provoked, he must take revenge. He is a creature of retribution”.
Getting her revenge was the only focus Sarat had. One of the most influential heroic acts in the book was when Sarat shot and killed General Joseph Weiland at Halfway Branch. This moment was another turning point in Sarat’s life because it was at point that she became a true insurrectionist, and she became a target for the Northerners. This proved to be yet another act of bravery and heroism on Sarat’s part – killing the General of the rebels in just one shot. From a young age, she had seen immense amounts of death and destruction, which desensitized her for the rest of her life. This helped her push through adversity, which ultimately led to her being able to fight so bravely. She knew what had to be done, and she would go to whatever lengths necessary to do it. Sarat’s main objective was to avenge the wrongdoings of the Northerners, and that was the driving force in her journey to becoming a female hero in the literary sense. Sarat’s final act of heroism took place when she decided to put an end to the war by infecting herself with an extremely lethal sickness that inevitably kills everyone who comes in contact with it. What Sarat does by contracting and spreading the plague is use herself as a weapon of mass destruction. Although this was a rather unconventional way of fighting for what she believed in, she was still able to save lives in the long run because she ended the war. She was only willing to die when she felt every other method had been exhausted and she could die for a purpose.
Sarat’s heroism was not necessarily of the warrior type in the sense that Edmundson discusses. She was not one who cared for her name to “live forever on the lips of men”. She simply knew what she stood for, and she would do whatever it took to get there, regardless of the praise or the admonition. Sarat knew that the South was not close to winning the war, so she had to make a big decision. She wanted all Northerners and what they stood for to be eradicated. Sarat was not concerned with what other people might say about her for years to come, if they even knew it was her who spread the disease in the first place. For these reasons, this brave heroine was humble in a way that most people would see as cold and dark. No one would ever be able to understand the abuse that made Sarat into the thick-skinned woman she was toward the end of the story. She was not necessarily the typical big, strong hero that everyone admired because of all of the brave deeds she had done and all of the people’s lives she had touched; she became a representative of her people. The Civil War ultimately developed into a fight for one’s people; no one went against their families and their people. Sarat’s people respected her bravery and tenacity, and she felt their cause was ultimately worth dying for. Sarat’s heroism was, in some ways, learned. She had to discover for herself how to use her pride, hunger for revenge, and willingness to sacrifice her life to her advantage.
By the end of the story, Sarat had become a hero to many Americans, specifically Southerners, but most importantly, to herself. She had fought a long, hard, and even though she did not particularly like the physical person she had become, she remained steadfast in fighting for herself, her family, and her home. This complex character was not one to take the easy way out of any situation she faced; she rejected the safe, sheltered life and embraced a life brimming with adventure and bravery, which is what classifies her as a heroine for her country. When everyone else would flee from adversity, Sarat would be there ready to fight for herself and others.
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Throughout Mark Edmundson’s publication entitled Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals, readers are challenged about their idea of a hero in numerous ways. As discussed in the book, the […]