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Is Superman An American Character?

Superman, both in 1932 and today, is an American icon. He has been referred to as “Man of Steel”, “The Caped Crusader”, and “Man of Tomorrow”, although the latter is the least used in today’s time. His mantra has been to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way” ever since I can remember. But of course, now I realize that he stands for much more.

To some, Superman is seen in the way he is meant to be seen: the embodiment of American standards and the strength of moral code. Although the creators Jerry Spiegel and Joe Shuster were second generation Jewish immigrants, they gave Superman the qualities of a good-natured American. They combined science fiction and bodybuilder magazines to create his physical and supernatural aspects, but nothing culturally outstanding in his character. Nothing about Superman was especially foreign, and yet everything about him is.

According to Engle, there are three main things that define Superman’s character, no matter what. Firstly, Superman himself is an immigrant, just like about half of the American population. He is seen as the last of his entire race, a representation of all Kryptonians (that is, until his cousin Supergirl arrives). His frontier is the Midwest farmlands of Smallville, Kansas, where he discovers his special abilities, and comes to terms that he is different than others. He continues on from there to defend against civil injustice, terrors across the world, and, ultimately, the universe. But, he also has a human side, the alter ego of Clark Kent. The “Man of Steel” transforms into a mild-mannered, diligent journalist who establishes feelings for Lois Lane, his co-worker. By reducing himself to Clark Kent, Superman becomes as close to “human” as he can, almost wanting to fit into the human race in light of losing his own. Lastly, Superman himself is accepted as a national hero, and although his origins are from elsewhere, he is praised for his great works toward the country.

Others who have analyzed the in-depth character changes and power enhancements of Superman have depicted him as a “monomyth”, or a myth that travels across cultures. From the creation to the influence of Superman, he is the monomyth of American pop culture. Commonly, the protagonist in a monomyth travels from common day “into a region of supernatural wonder”. But the American definition of monomyth requires something a bit more elaborate, starting with the society in danger. When normal institutions do not dispel the danger, a brave hero steps forward to stop whatever threatens society, and then returns to obscurity (Lang, 158). This would be true for Superman, except for one detail: he does not entirely slip into obscurity. Doesn’t that make Superman even more of an American hero, because he does not give up on the country’s progress?

I personally believe that Superman was created in the American spirit. Not necessarily in the context that he is the all-American character that they made him represent, but because of his impact. Historically, the American Dream was an entity all in its own at the time, and Superman was able to overcome that faster than anyone was an amazing feat. Superman is one of the first heroes that American children learn of, besides public service workers. More importantly, Superman is the person that was designed to make the American public believe in something greater. He could have easily been written as the representative of any other ethnicity or religion, but he is and always has been the representative of all America, and ultimately, the protector of our universe…at least fictionally.


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