By Shoshana Milgram
“You failed to recognize the hero in your soul,” says John Galt, “and you failed to recognize me when I passed you in the street.” Preserving the hero in one’s soul, in life, is an ongoing endeavor. In fiction, however, it can be a crystallized dramatic moment: Cyrano de Bergerac tells Roxane that “there comes one moment, once, and God help those who pass that moment by!”
This course explores short stories in which protagonists confront the responsibility to be self-made heroes. Each story spotlights a character at a crossroads, with the urgent need to identify values, and either to uphold these values, or abandon them. By sharing that perspective, we witness moments both intimate and significant. In classic fiction by Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson and H. G. Wells, we see the dignity of self-reverence, the tragedy of self-betrayal, and the solemnity of the choice.
The course considers several questions, in general, and in particular relation to these six works of fiction:
What is the hero in one’s soul? What are the assumptions behind such an expression? What are the characteristics of someone who casts away the hero in his soul? What are the characteristics of someone who preserves it? How are characters’ key choices fundamentally linked with preserving or casting away the hero in their souls?
The selected short stories, all of which can be found online without charge, cover a range of possibilities. In “The Mexican” by Jack London and “The Doll” by Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Felipe Rivera and Tom Taylor act to gain or keep their values, the values they have chosen independently and that reflect what they have made of themselves. In “The Door in the Wall” by H. G. Wells and “Wakefield” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lionel Wallace and Wakefield surrender their values, and thus betray their true selves. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and “The Country of the Blind” by H. G. Wells, Henry Jekyll and Nunez initially cast away the hero in their souls, and then attempt, with different degrees of success, to reverse course.
The course concludes with passages from the writings of Ayn Rand—Ideal, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged—pertaining to preserving, or surrendering, the hero in one’s soul.
This course was recorded at the Objectivist Summer Conference 2012 in San Diego, CA.
(MP3 download; 4 hrs., 4 min., 175 MB)