The Orphan Behind The Hero

At the forefront of our consciousness, the common orphan is an image of destitute misery, desperation, and abandonment, symbolically embodied. The one that comes to mind is the sort that one would find in a paltry orphanage, or worse, having to fend off the streets on their own, the image we see from charity organizations and the media.

At the same time, if anyone has grown up watching cartoons, or reading popular children’s fiction or seen the ideal, heroic icon, then they have surely seen images of another kind of orphan. Most of us in fact are barely aware, or hardly notice the parallels between characters such as our favorite superheroes, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or our favorite Disney princesses, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel the Mermaid amongst many other favorite characters. Every boy and girl’s childhood icon is in fact an orphan.

We can stretch this list even further to include our favorite fictional characters such as Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn, Mowgli, James Bond, Aladdin, to name just a few. But this doesn’t even include some of history’s greatest heroes, such as Malcom X, Nelson Mandela, Aristotle and let’s not forget our very own Prophet peace be upon him.

All of these fictional and historic personalities are all looked up to as heroes and heroines in their own right. What makes them all exceptional is their journey towards restoring some kind of justice in their own lives as well as the lives of those around them. Each of these fictional and real life characters diligently lived up to a set of moral principles even in the face of resistance, ridicule and a common enemy that sought to debase their cause and their spirit.

In terms of many fictional characters, particularly super heroes, why were so many of them orphans and what does the state of the orphan symbolize? How does this lend the superhero his or her credibility? Hundreds of literary analysis have probably been written about this subject but this is my guess. It might be that the orphan, in virtue of having weak family ties, must discover for themselves a different sense of self. Also, it forces the reader or viewer to view the character singly as their own isolated individual and not by their blood ties. We then become introduced to the personal, inner journey of the character as they commit themselves to righting a world in which they live, full of the wrongs of injustice. And so for the hero, fighting a life of crime or social oppression becomes a life commitment.

The orphan becomes symbolic of the human being in their essence, free of any ties or affiliations but themselves and only themselves in the face a life riddled with circumstances that revolves around them to be their destiny. The Orphan’s journey is the kind of soul searching that the human being undergoes in their life and the search for fulfilling their call to something much greater and much more important than themselves. The orphan is the hero, the epitome of good and their fight against some kind of evil, a commitment to prevailing justice. We come to see ourselves in the daily struggles of the hero, especially when glimpsing their greatest moments of vulnerability, often times, with the reminder of their broken family ties and isolation.

These characters, fictional and historical should remind us of the innate humanity in all people, including that of the orphan. In addition it should remind us that in the absence of the kind of family and support that most of us have grown up with, society as a whole becomes the caregiver to those who may lack that support. We impart the lessons of life and prevailing sense of humanity on those who may have already lost hope in it.

Each and every single one of us is a hero or a heroin in their own life’s story, fighting their inner battles, in search of fulfilling a noble life purpose. Every child, orphan or not, has the astounding potential that we can only hope they have the chance to realize; that is, to be the kind of hero that the world looks up to in awe, Inshallah.

About The Author

Hawa Abdullah

A Tanzanian Canadian and globe trotter all my life, I hope to be a globe trotter for life. Besides working towards a double major in Bioethics and Anthropology, artsy endeavors in photography, writing, painting and especially poetry are the hallmark of my life. I’m a book lover and café lover, combine both and its heaven! I love watching documentaries and one day I hope to make one in honour of the people I hope to be an advocate for.

More From Reflections