Heroism can manifest itself not only in altruistic deeds for other people but in individual opposition to difficult social conditions. The seventh chapter shows how Víctor gets to the award ceremony of the colonial government, where he receives medals and a certificate (Rivera, 2020). However, the people of the town do not support him in celebrating such a significant event due to rejection caused by racial prejudice. Víctor is not afraid of condemnation and is proud of his heroic deed, accepting awards. Such an act on the part of the character is an example of individual heroism when Víctor has to resist public opinion in order to defend his right to recognition in the society.
Heroism is a phenomenon that is closely related to the social aspects of the environment in which the heroic figure emerges. Frisk (2019) emphasizes in the study of the phenomenon of heroism that this concept refers to “the relationship between the individual and the social order” (p. 99). Additionally, heroism is related to both top-down and bottom-up social recognition processes that affect the heroic figure. Finally, the concept of heroism includes socio-psychological, cultural, and socio-political components, which emphasize the multidimensional nature of this phenomenon. Thus, a hero cannot arise without social approval and praise, regardless of the actions. A heroic deed is tied to what social and public value it brings and what consequences it causes for the community. However, the characteristics of the society itself and the cultural norms adopted in it also have an influence on the formation of a heroic figure.
Víctor receives well-deserved recognition from the colonial government for his heroic deeds. Bigazzi et al. (2021) note that heroism in the public sphere implies an institutionalized veneration of ordinary people. Thus, from the description of the process of presenting the award to Víctor, it can be understood that his praise is precisely institutionalized rather than popular (Rivera, 2020). This representation suggests that the image of the hero in this situation does not correspond to the real public perception of Víctor in society. This aspect is confirmed by the details presented at the beginning of the chapter. It is noted that Víctor is standing on the balcony in anticipation of the award ceremony and watching what is happening around them (Rivera, 2020). The town the character lives in is small, so one would expect people to want to gather at the Hall to honor their local hero. However, this does not happen; life goes on as usual, and no one notices the ceremony, which is intended for Víctor.
Despite his heroism and recognition by the colonial government, Víctor hardly deserves a public vacation. This aspect identifies that there are other characteristics in society that determine the attitude of community members to the character. In the chapter, this aspect is further emphasized by the character of police officer Cabrera, who calmly watches the exit of Víctor and his family from the Hall after the ceremony (Rivera, 2020). It is unknown if he is envious of Víctor’s position, but it is clear that he does not share the government’s enthusiasm for Víctor’s heroism. In particular, he makes no attempt to congratulate him or his family members; Cabrera also does not support their joy. When Teresa openly smiles at the policeman, showing her happiness and pride, he does not react at all (Rivera, 2020). This aspect gives the reader a few clues as to how the city’s residents feel about Víctor.
First of all, the character is an ordinary person, a sailor who suddenly becomes a hero. For Cabrera, as a diligent policeman who does his duty with honor, such attention to Víctor can be insulting. For his daily service to the benefit of the city, he is not rewarded by the colonial government, while one heroic deed of an ordinary person becomes an occasion for praise. It is also clear that Víctor is not part of the venerable circle whose members presented him with awards. It is noted that having received a certificate along with a medal; the character still could not read it, although he felt its significance (Rivera, 2020). Mayor probably does not share the colonial government’s delight with Víctor either, given a warm welcome the hero received. The character, in this case, is an undesirable figure for the image of a local hero since it is not supported by the identity and the local ruling class. Cabrera as a local hero would be much more appropriate, as he has features that would resonate in the hearts of the inhabitants of the town.
Víctor, despite the institutionalized recognition of his actions, hardly fits the role of a public hero. Bigazzi et al. (2021) also note that, along with public heroism, there is an individual one, which implies honorable acts in front of oneself and one’s family. Probably, the heroic figure of Víctor is precisely an example of individual heroism. Despite the obvious rejection in society, the increase in the number of enemies, and the growing racial prejudice, he does not turn down the opportunity to accept medals from the government. Víctor shows his pride and also enjoys the support of his family without fear of being judged by others in the town.
Parallels can also be drawn in this situation with other heroes who have not been accepted in society because of their racial identity. For example, Miguel Enríquez Mulato shoemaker born in the Puerto Rican city of San Juan in the 18th century, was able to create a supplier business that later turned into a vast commercial venture (Knight & Gates, 2016). Despite active cooperation with local authorities and representatives of higher social circles, Enríquez was subject to racial discrimination, which did not allow him to acquire well-deserved recognition in society. This story is an example of the personal heroism of a historical figure. Enríquez was not afraid of the racial prejudice prevalent in Puerto Rico as the future of nationalism; he fought against this factor, although he could not completely defeat it. Despite this, the entrepreneur sought to participate in society and do everything possible for him, regardless of the public image.
Likewise, Víctor is an example of personal heroism in the face of general social rejection. Despite the public’s apparent disapproval of his recognition by the colonial government due to racial prejudice, the character celebrates his accomplishments. Víctor understands that he has done a heroic deed and is proud of it, although he does not receive support from the inhabitants of the town. This factor gives his heroism new dimensions, as the character is forced to fight with the external environment in order to gain recognition. Such a struggle against public opinion shows that Víctor has the inner strength to resist social factors. Such individual heroism on his part complements the public one, which was not appreciated by society.
Bigazzi, S., Csernus, F., Siegler, A., Bokrétás, I., Serdült, S., Ilea, I., Giourga, A., Kahraman, M., & Takács, B. (2021). Social representations of heroes: Triggers from the past, values in the present, patterns for the future. Human Arenas, 1-25. Web.
Frisk, K. (2019). What makes a hero? Theorising the social structuring of heroism. Sociology, 23(1), 87-103. Web.
Knight, F. W., & Gates, H. L. (2016). Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American biography. Oxford University Press.
Rivera, R. G. (2020). Víctor Rojas: The lifeguard of Arecibo. Abacoa Press.