The social origins of heroism : Louis Riel in English Canadian culture

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Spelchak, Robert Joseph
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...The effect heroes have upon our lives is something which has yet to be fully understood. Certainly there has been much written of a hero's exploits, personal characteristics, and what effect they have had on specific groups. However, there appears to be no compelling understanding of the type of situation or circumstances that must be present to create a hero, or what social processes affect the essential qualities of being a hero. It is important to understand what types of events lead to the formation of heroes, and how society reacts to those who become imbued with qualities of heroism. Because this study principally focuses on the exploits of a Canadian historical figure, it is acknowledged that the qualities determining Louis Riel's heroism are culturally based, and may differ from other cultures' ideas of what constitute heroic qualities. The Metis observed traits in Riel which prompted many to follow and support his ideas and actions. The traits the Metis found admirable may not be universally accepted as heroic in cultures which place emphasis on distinctly different values. To study what brings about the formation of a particular hero and his or her social justification, we must first determine what makes a hero heroic. That is, what actions does a hero usually undertake and what qualities are usually displayed? Delineating these elements will enable us to better understand how a person can become appealing as a heroic figure. Once the elements of heroism are determined, the study of this particular individual will be undertaken. The purpose of this thesis is to review what has been written about heroes and heroism and to use an actual figure from history, to probe the nature of the heroic character. Such an analysis will provide an understanding of the situational environment which produced a person of heroic importance. This analysis will include the physical environment, the cultural and social milieu which helped to influence the person's development as a hero, as well as the supporting and opposing role played by others in the subject's passage into the realm of the heroic. The actions of groups opposed to the hero must be studied to produce a complete understanding of the influence of heroism on society...