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Kristina Sperlich


Assoziiertes Mitglied
Anglistik, Universität Freiburg



Dissertationsprojekt  "‘Unlikely Heroes’ – Teenagers, Adolescence and the Heroic in Contemporary British Children’s and Young Adult Fiction" (working title)

In children’s and young adult fiction, heroes are important role models for their readership. However, teenagers who grow up in council estates as members of socially disadvantaged families and who might face antisocial behaviour orders are hardly ever perceived as heroic role models. Instead of fighting for a greater good, they fight for their own survival and their status on the block. Drugs and violence are part of their every-day life. The challenges they have to cope with are a difficult family situation, unemployment, financial difficulties, a criminal record and limited future prospects. In contemporary British young adult fiction, these marginalised teenagers have become the focus of a heroic discourse.

The following examples serve as basis for my research. In Phil Earle’s novel Heroic (2013), 18-year old Jammy, facing unemployment, poverty and boredom, signs up for the army and ends up fighting in Afghanistan. He is hailed as a hero upon his return to the block but has difficulties embracing his new heroic role. In the British television series Misfits (2009-2013), written and created by Howard Overman, five young offenders who are carrying out community service develop superpowers when struck by lightning. They unwillingly have to come to terms with their new role as superheroes. In the film Attack the Block (2011), written by Joe Cornish, a teenage street gang suddenly has to defend their territory against aliens from outer space.

In my dissertation project, I will use methods from literary and cultural studies to take a closer look at why these teenage protagonists are perceived as unlikely to act heroically and at how they are heroised. What role does their social background play in the heroisation process and how does their social environment (e.g. as a gang member) influence their (heroic) behaviour? Moreover, I will examine how coming-of-age processes and heroisation overlap. I will also address the question of how the depiction of these ‘unlikely heroes’ coincides with on-going discussions on war, terror and teenage crime in British society.

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