The question of what makes a hero is asked all the way through Heroes, by many different characters.
Before they even go to war, LaSalle is a hero to the kids of the Wreck Centre. He brings out the best in them and they adore him. Even at the end he is still making Francis feel better about himself, and prevents him from becoming a murderer. Is this more or less heroic than his war record? Francis is something of a peacetime hero as well – by becoming table tennis champion and beating LaSalle he becomes an icon to the other children.
The scrapbook kept by the ‘Strangler’ at the St. Jude’s club contains newspaper clippings about all the ‘heroes’ of Frenchtown, including both LaSalle and Francis. The other men regard it as something of a symbol, something to be proud of, but Francis is ambivalent.
The Silver Star is the only medal awarded for ‘heroism’, we are told. Both LaSalle and Francis have been awarded this medal, for saving the lives of their fellow soldiers. LaSalle does so by taking out a machine gun nest, Francis by falling on a grenade – the grenade that destroys his face. Is it significant that one wins it by committing an act of violence, whereas the other wins it by taking the damage himself? It impresses the townsfolk – but Francis wants to remain anonymous.
Heroism - continued
Francis finds Arthur drunk outside the back of the St Jude club one night. Arthur is crying, because he is haunted by the war but nobody will talk about it. He scoffs at the idea of ‘heroes’ and says they were all just scared boys, and that there was no glamour involved. He says ‘We weren’t heroes. We were only there.’
This can be interpreted in two ways. One is that it is wrong for people to call them heroes, because they didn’t act like heroes. It was merely chance that they were there in the war. But when Francis remembers Arthur’s words right at the end of the book, it gives them a different interpretation. Francis is suggesting...