Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter

This post-apocalyptic novel by Angela Carter is an interesting literary fable. It is set after what can only be a nuclear event that almost wipes out society as we know it, yet the characters we follow barely think about the past.

Heroes and Villains juxtaposes between who are heroes and who are villains; can anyone ever be defined by one term without the other? Each individuals' view will be different from another's, which we see in the very survivors of the future. What we would call society is split between two groups of Professors and Barbarians. The Professors have tried to stick to the old ways; still ploughing fields and living behind barricades; the Professors hold the knowledge of the past, but are living a regimented life. The Barbarians on the other hand have taken to the land, living a nomadic life and raiding the Professors’ villages to gain the food they need to augment their diets.

In the Professors' villages the first son becomes a soldier to protect the civilians whereas the second son becomes a professor. Women's roles seem to be less defined and our lead character Marianne feels that she has no place in the society she comes from, even if she has had better education and food and healthcare, she has no notion of what life is like outside the barricades as every child in these barricades are taught that the soldiers are the heroes and that the barbarians are to be feared and hated; that they are the unknown and subhuman and should be shot on sight.

The Barbarians have no permanent residence but move as the seasons do. They are suspicious and have reverted to superstition rather than knowledge of basic medicines. They lead what we would call a pitiful life, but again the roles are just as strict between men and women as they are in the villages, with the men being hunter gathers and the women staying at home almost like chattel. With the barbarians there many interesting characters who are vivid and well defined personalities, like Jewel, who is being groomed almost like the Hero that Joseph Campbell points out in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He is a leader of his people and yet cannot connect on an intellectual level as he has never been taught to think for himself.

When Jewel and Marianne meet their worlds are thrown together and they both learn more about the world they live in and the way they have been moulded to conformity. Can they ever free themselves and live the way they want?

9/10 Heroes and Villains juxtaposes between who are heroes and who are villains.

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