The Heroic Sacrifice
Why did Marvel kill one of their most prosperous and grossing superheroes Iron-Man? Why did Harry Potter walk into battle purposefully trying to die? Why did the 54th Regiment in the Civil War march across enemy lines, knowing they didn’t have a chance at winning? A hero in any story must travel though a universal cycle entitled The Hero’s Journey. A significant component of this journey involves the hero having to sacrifice themselves. This section is exemplified in stories such as Beowulf and movies like The Natural. In the book, Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, the movie The Natural, directed by Barry Levinson, and Avengers: Endgame, directed by the Russo Brothers; the hero sacrifices themselves for the sake of their communities to complete their hero’s journey.
First, in the book Beowulf, the hero Beowulf sacrifices his life by slaying a dragon that is threatening his homeland. This story depicts a warrior-prince, an aging leader whose mead hall was destroyed, and his people terrorized by an almost invincible dragon. He felt he needed to take action, although he knew that fate would be against him in the battle. In his final speech before his demise, in lines 2511-2515 he boasted, “I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as a king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning” … “As king of the people” shows Beowulf’s reason for battling; not for himself, but to win for his people. The reader can understand Beowulf as a true hero to the community and clarifies his true intentions for battling this creature was in the best interest of his people. After his speech, Beowulf is killed in battle, but beforehand with the help of Wiglaf, they slew the dragon. His selflessness and courageous in this suicide mission are something to truly behold as he completed his mission, even though this time fate took him away. Therefore, Beowulf’s noble death in attempting to kill the beast terrorizing Geatland effectively demonstrates the hero’s obligation to sacrifice for others.
In the movie, The Natural directed Barry Levinson, the hero Roy Hobbs metaphorically sacrifices himself to save the team from the hands of The Judge. This film also follows the story of an aging hero who after an incident finds himself in the maternity hospital. The doctors notify him that he is unable to play without the risk of his stomach imploding in on itself. In one scene, in particular, Roy tries to bat in an Evening Batting Practice and immediately collapses from the pain. He knows he’s hurting, and he could very well die but decides to play in the game anyway. The day after, in Roy’s last at-bat, he is seen with blood on his jersey, near the stomach. The viewer understands this as a metaphorical sacrifice of his body and possibly his life as Roy is putting everything including his baseball career on the line. Although Roy isn’t severely harmed, the injury signifies the sacrifice of his career and the possibility of an injury. Thus, both Roy and Beowulf, heroes in their respective stories, sacrificed their lives both literally and metaphorically for their communities.
Next, in the source Beowulf, the hero Beowulf also sacrifices reputation to slay the dragon, knowing he wouldn’t be known as “unbeatable.” Beowulf has always been defensive of his reputation and can be seen in his verbal battle with Unferth before his battle with Grendel. When refuting Unferth’s questioning of his battle-readiness, he states emphatically in lines 581-586 states “I cannot recall any fight you entered, Unferth, that sears comparison, I don’t boast when I say that you, nor Breca were ever much celebrated for swordsmanship or facing danger on the field of battle.” “I cannot recall any fight you entered, Unferth, that sears comparison…” shows Beowulf’s defensive personality, especially when his nobility is questioned. The reader can conclude that Beowulf is proud of himself and his accomplishments and it is one of his more important qualities. Not only this but Beowulf was world-renowned as an unstoppable warrior and a god gifted hero that could take down anything. Going into the fight with the dragon Beowulf knew he was going to die. And yet he chose to fight anyway. Why would a man like Beowulf, defensive as they’ll ever come, sacrifice his god-like identity to face some dragon? His people. Beowulf put his people’s needs ahead of his, not worrying about himself but his country.
Also, in the movie The Natural, Roy Hobbs plays even when blackmailed by the Judge. When Roy is resting in the maternity hospital, the Judge comes to visit him to convince him not to play. In the scene, the Judge has information on Roy’s past that will destroy his Major League Baseball career if he decides to play. The reader reacts to this as the classic moral dilemma; Roy can choose to play, and the media releases the information on his past, or he will let both the team and his fans down. Even with this threat, Roy decides to sacrifice his reputation and his future in the sport for his team and the fans as well as Pop. Although for different reasons, both Beowulf and Roy sacrificed their reputations for their communities, risking things that are important to him.
In the hero’s journey, a hero is required to make a sacrifice to essentially prove their heroism. This is represented in both Beowulf and The Natural but also in the movie Avengers: Endgame. In the film, a man Tony Stark also known as Iron-Man and his team are in charge of bringing back the people lost in the previous movie. In the end, Iron-Man must make the ultimate decision. In the final fight scene of the movie teammate, Doctor Strange holds up a single finger to Tony. This represented the number of chances they had of winning the battle and Tony knew this; he must choose to survive for his wife and daughter or sacrifice himself for the sake of the universe. As Thanos was about to snap his fingers to destroy half of the living beings in the universe, Tony takes the stones and puts them in his makeshift gauntlet. He snaps his fingers, says “I am Ironman,” and dies in his wife’s arms. “I am Ironman” is an important line in this scene because it was also used in the first movie or the beginning of Tony’s hero’s journey. The viewer understands that this moment represents his growth from an entitled billionaire’s son to a selfless hero and has his journey has end full circle. This sacrifice made by Tony applies to both Beowulf and Roy Hobbs, as both sets of heroes sacrificed for their communities and loved ones.
Conversely, some opponents of the “hero’s sacrifice” claim that a hero isn’t required to sacrifice themselves and thus Roy Hobbs didn’t truly sacrifice, saying as the hero didn’t die in the process, it doesn’t count. They make a compelling argument when describing their point of view because every hero’s journey is unique to its plot and character. Adversaries also cite the fact that Roy only had blood on his shirt, and he lived happily ever after with his family; however, while they do acknowledge literal sacrifices, they fail to recognize metaphorical sacrifices as well. Sacrifice is defined as to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else. Therefore, the preconceived notion that a hero must die is completely false; in order to complete their journey, they must “surrender… for the sake of something else.” Their points are also disproven as the hero is required to sacrifice in some form, according to the hero’s journey.
In conclusion, in the movie “The Natural” directed by Barry Levinson, and the book Beowulf, heroes of the stories sacrifice significant pieces of their lives to prove their roles as heroes and solidify their hero’s journey. In doing so, they must possibly sacrifice their reputations as well as their lives in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Marvel did kill Iron-Man because it was clear his time had come as a hero and he did sacrifice. Harry Potter knew the only way to defeat Voldemort and the chaos he brought was to sacrifice himself to kill that piece of himself. The 54th Regiment of the Union in the Civil War, an all-black squad marched into battle to make way for future African Americans and do their part, even if it meant the ultimate cost. In all these different stories, coming from all sorts of backgrounds a key word is stated: sacrifice. Thus, characters such as Beowulf and Roy Hobbs, as well as Tony Stark, represent the hero’s sacrifice for their communities and the fulfillment of their individual hero’s journey.