On Martyrdom and Self Sacrifice

The Death of Socrates, Oil on canvas

There’s something about the story of a martyr that strikes the imagination. Regardless of how historical facts become exaggerated and dramatized to make the martyr more appealing to audiences the fact that these extraordinary people were willing to give their lives for their convictions is what makes so damn alluring. Life is precious, but for these people less precious than the rest of the world knowing that they value their beliefs above their own personal needs… thats where concepts like altruism and idealism come from. Because at the end of the day the world is just going to keep spinning, and the great ship that is Humanity (With a capital H) is steered only chance and circumstance, or god if you believe in such things. So it’s quite possible that a Martyr is just a stone thrown deep into the still calm of a placid lake, and the ripples generated by that impact, by the martyr’s sacrifice, still reverberate through time.

Now we live in a day and age where we’ve seen the whole “self-sacrifice” trope played out so many times we could all do a TEDtalk about it… and yet these stories still thrive in our modern society. Sure modern writer’s may embelish the plots by adding a love triangle or some supernatural element, but this tale of belief and death for said belief is still very prevalent.

Sure, it’s classic, I’ll grant you that. I myself have toyed with the idea in my own novel, Beyond the Southerly Weepers. There are about three endings in mind, and 2 of the 3 involve self sacrifice. In one my hero, a cyborg who pays for the use of his most special ability with the shortening of his own life span, uses the weapon stored within him to obliterate an enemy that has hounded him since the dawn of his existence. It is an act of genocide in a way, as well as revenge, and what comes of it is mutually assured destruction. Another involves my hero’s partner knowing, and stopping him before he can do it. She would then solve problems her own way, and give her life to assure that Thompson doesn’t have to give his own. And the Third is more in line with GoT, so we need not go there in the interests of this post.

As you can see the inkling is there. I too am infatuated with the mythos of martyrdom. We romanticize these stories again and again, and they are as alluring today as they were thousands of years ago. Batman, a modern example of a man who gives up a normal life to protect those who were like him when he lost his parents. Jesus is the most prominent classical example, but I prefer Socrates (He doesn’t come back to life, so his sacrifice isn’t lessened in any way. Just my opinion). So my question is this…

How might you construct a short story focused around a central character who is martyred in some way?

Feel free to leave your comments or observations below! 🙂


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