Cormier makes Francis insist that he is not heroic. Instead he describes how Larry went off to war and distinguished himself in action.
I am not a hero, of course.
A New England Marine is one of the great heroes of Pacific action, receiving the Silver Star ...
...the people of Monument jammed the Plymouth to see the town’s first big war hero on the silver screen.
I had always wanted to be a hero, like Larry LaSalle and all the others, but had been a fake all along.
Francis is unable to separate his understanding of his actions during the war from his feelings of failure for not having rescued Nicole from Larry.
However, he believes that Larry is exactly what a hero should be like.
It is interesting that even after the reader knows that Francis intends to kill Larry, Francis is still referring to Larry as a hero. He can separate whatever Larry did from his war action, but is unable to do the same for himself.
Cormier shows how Larry wants to reassure Francis about his action during the war.
You would have fallen on that grenade, anyway. All your instincts would have made you sacrifice yourself for your comrades.
The reader can tell that Larry is serious at this point in the novel. He has nothing left to lose and there is no reason for him to lie. Therefore, for once, he can be trusted. His opinion of Francis is right – Francis would have died to save his friends because he would have acted instinctively.
Through Francis’ eyes, Cormier describes how other characters have been affected by their experiences in the war – either dying or receiving life-changing injuries.
Enrico is now without his legs and is also missing his left arm.
I see George Richelieu tugging at his pinned-up sleeve which should hold his arm but his arm is buried somewhere in the South Pacific...
...poor Joey LeBlanc, who died on a beach on Iwo Jima in the South Pacific...
'Jesus,’ Sonny Orlandi mutters. Jesus: meaning I’m scared and so is everybody else, clenched fists holding firearms, quiet curses floating on the air...
I see the twitching in the corner of Arthur’s mouth...
Armand stares off into space... and there’s a sudden flash of what – terror? bad dreams? – in his eyes.
The scared war... God, but I was scared, Francis. I messed my pants.
While Francis has received terrible injuries to his face, others, such as Enrico Rucelli, have been left even worse off. The reader is forced to consider how there are varying degrees of damage left by war. The thought of body parts being almost abandoned in a far off land is extremely disturbing.
Other friends lost their lives, and Francis pities them all, dying alone far away from home and family. This suggests his emotional capacity and personal involvement with the war.
Even those who were not physically hurt have received other kinds of damage. Francis has moved a long way from his initial ideas about war being an exciting adventure.
The veterans who drink at the St Jude’s Club talk and joke with one another, but in their moments of silence it is obvious that not one of them is completely unaffected by their experiences.
Arthur Rivier admits to having been afraid, but only when he is drunk. It is somehow seen as a shameful thing to have been frightened. Only at the end does Francis come to realise that fear is a normal human response.
At the end of the novel, Francis comes to a realisation about heroism.
I remember what I said to Nicole about not knowing who the real heroes are and I think of my old platoon.
We were only there. Scared kids, not born to fight and kill. Who were not only there but who stayed, did not run away, fought the good war. And never talk about it. And didn’t receive a Silver Star. But heroes, anyway. The real heroes.
At last, Francis sees that heroism is not about carrying out great feats of bravery. It is about being an ordinary human being, who in spite of being absolutely terrified, continues to do what has to be done. After the war is over, true heroes do not boast about their achievements but continue with their lives quietly, almost anonymously. Francis is forced to be anonymous because of his injuries, and he eventually realises that it is this that makes him join the ranks of true heroes.
How does Cormier explore the themes of war and heroism in Heroes?
Cormier looks at the themes of war and heroism through Francis’ narration but also through the way that other characters view him. His gradual understanding of the horrors of war is shown through his initial innocence, when he believes that war is a big adventure, developing into a realistic acceptance of how much damage can be caused by war. Cormier also shows how other characters, who have been affected in different ways by war, struggle to live normal lives after they have returned. Cormier allows Francis’ descriptions of his and other men’s injuries to provide a gruesome but realistic picture of what war really involves. Eventually, the reader sees, through Francis, that a hero is just a normal person who endured something horrific without running away.