Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sample Classification Paper, Option 2

Below appears an example of a classification paper, second option, as discussed here. It treats a type of hero that is forbidden from consideration in student papers, so that it can serve as a model while not actually doing the students' work for them. Please note both that it is an early draft, and so can stand to be improved, and that it is a good length for student papers, when formatted according to stated submission guidelines here.

The anti-hero can be defined as a character who achieves heroic ends by carrying out actions that are themselves generally considered evil; they attain fair ends by foul means.  On first glance, Fëanor from Tolkien's Silmarillion appears to fit the definition.  In truth, he does not; he is not actually an anti-hero.

The misidentification of Fëanor as an anti-hero is unsurprising; the "hero" part of the term certainly seems easy enough to perceive at first.  He is born into a position of privilege, certainly, as the eldest son of the lord of one of the three major branches of the Elvish people (Silmarillion 67).  That position, the eldest son of a mighty ruler, is one usually reserved for heroes, as are the levels of skill and resolution that are attributed to him.  To illustrate, Tolkien calls him "of all the Noldor [the second of the great groups of Elf-kind], then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand" and notes that "Few ever changed his courses by counsel, none by force" (68); both descriptions portray Fëanor as exceptional in the ways that heroes are usually exceptional.  Also, his masterworks, the Silmarils, give their name to the text in which Fëanor himself is described in detail (27); that they do so seems to position Fëanor as the pivotal figure of the text, a position typically occupied by a hero.

Fëanor additionally operates by foul means, so that he appears to fulfill the "anti" portion of the term "anti-hero."  He draws a sword against his half-brother in the house of his father, threatening to kill him (76); the offer of kin-slaying is an offer of ancient evil widely recognized as being such.  That Fëanor makes such an offer is clearly an immoral act.  That he comes to be a kin-slayer only intensifies his foul-acting nature; in pursuing a single-minded course of action, Fëanor leads his people in the slaughter of other Elves, to which some of them are akin (97-98).  Leading people into iniquity is hardly a fair action, so that for Fëanor to perform it clearly situates him as undertaking an evil action.  The multiple sentences of exile which are imposed upon Fëanor serve a similar function (77, 95); being twice cast out from one's birthplace and, indeed, from a paradisaical realm are easily recognizable effects of evil actions, so that the eldest son of the lord of the Noldor is marked as having done evil by being made to suffer exile.

How Fëanor fails to fulfill the role of anti-hero is that he does not achieve a fair end; despite the initial promise of heroism attached to him, he dies in failure and disgrace.  That death comes as the result of a rash attempt to too-quickly fulfill a hastily sworn and poorly conceived oath.  Fëanor is, at one point before his second and final exile, summoned to the capital city of the paradisaical realm in which he was born; when he answers the summons, he leaves his masterworks, the Silmarils, behind in the place where he dwelled in his exile (83).  While he is in the capital city, the Satan-figure in Tolkien's work, Melkor/Morgoth, assails the exile-dwelling, slaying Fëanor's father and stealing the Silmarils as he does so (87-88).  In grief at the loss of his works and of his father, Fëanor and his seven sons swear to pursue with unending hatred those who would keep the Silmarils from them, whatever power or purpose should guide them (93).  Vows made in grief are not less binding, although they are usually less well planned, given the disruption of rational thought that deep sadness tends to create.  The oath Fëanor and his sons swear, then, is a bad idea to begin with; it is made worse in that it is cited as the reason for the second exile (95).

Following the fallacious vow, Fëanor leads his people into Middle-earth.  There, they are soon beset by the forces of Melkor/Morgoth.  Although they are outnumbered, however, they manage to defeat the armies sent against them, which would bode well for Fëanor but for his own continuing folly; "Fëanor, in his wrath against the Enemy [Melkor/Morgoth], would not halt [in pursuing the retreating forces], but pressed on" (124).  It is good tactics to pursue a retreating opponent when the reinforcements and fortifications toward which the retreat is headed are known and sufficient force is on hand to deal with them.  This was not the case for Fëanor, however; "he drew far ahead of the van of his host; and seeing this the servants of Morgoth turned to bay, and there issued from Angband [the enemy fortress] Balrogs [demons of fire and darkness] to aid them" (124).  The son of the lord of the Noldor is struck down in what should have been the moment of his victory, the victim twice-over of his own recklessness.  It is not a heroic end, and so the evils that Fëanor commits are not redeemed through final heroism.  Consequently, Fëanor is not an anti-hero.

There is a danger in being too eager to apply labels based on superficial readings.  In works of literature, doing so leads to failed understandings of texts.  In other works of art, doing so leads to other misunderstandings.  In real life, doing so promotes destructive stereotypes and ethnocentrism.  More attention to specific details is needed so as to prevent negative effects, which is as important as developing positive ones.
Work Cited
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982. Print.

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