Many people in Springfield have a rather simplistic understanding of what it means to be a hero versus a villain, but the novel challenges this simplistic view, suggesting that such an easy division is not always possible. Several characters are framed as heroes, most notably Quinn’s father (who is nicknamed “Saint Springfield”) and Paul Galluzzo. Rashad’s father David is also something of a hero figure, in that he is presented as a model of discipline and service. Crucially, these three figures are all connected by their involvement in the police and/or military, which relates to the theme of patriotism, as servicemen are commonly framed as American heroes who dedicate their lives to their countries and communities.
The events of the narrative, however, complicate the idea that servicemen are necessarily “heroes” in a straightforward sense. Both Paul and David are revealed to have wrongfully assaulted/shot young, unarmed black men. Crucially, it is not just these acts themselves that sully the impression of these men as heroes, but also the way that both men react to the wrongs they have committed. Paul refuses to acknowledge any guilt about his brutal attack on Rashad, and he demands loyalty from those around him. He expects this loyalty to trump people’s individual reasoning about whether he was in the right, even given the fact that there is a video recording showing his unnecessary force, and some characters witnessed it first-hand. This expectation of loyalty indicates a negative side to the phenomenon of celebrating certain individuals as heroes. Calling someone a hero can sometimes mean that this person is taken to be infallible, when in reality, everyone makes mistakes and should be held accountable when they do. Furthermore, Paul’s status as a hero obscures the power he wields over others, particularly Rashad. He may ostensibly serve the community through his work in the police force, but he also abuses the power and authority bestowed on him.
David’s secrecy about the time when he shot Darnell suggests a similar abuse of power. Rather than holding himself accountable and admitting his mistake to Rashad, David keeps the incident a secret from his son for most of his life. This indicates that David wants to continue to be a hero in the eyes of Rashad, but this actually stops him from behaving in an honest, responsible, morally upstanding manner. The knowledge that his father shot an unarmed black man, while painful, helps Rashad to deepen his understanding of the issue of police racism and brutality. Even though this revelation compromises David’s image as a hero in some ways, it is also a heroic act in others, as it involves David putting aside his own ego and shame in order to tell his son the truth.
In addition to complicating the nature of heroism and heroes, the novel also resists portraying any character as a villain in a straightforward sense. While Paul emerges as the antagonist, Quinn’s narration emphasizes that Paul is not all bad. Indeed, much of Quinn’s difficulty in coming to terms with what happened to Rashad revolves around his inability to reconcile the two sides of Paul that he has seen. On the one hand, ever since the death of Quinn’s father, Paul has looked out for Quinn, selflessly mentoring and protecting him. Quinn struggles to understand how the Paul he knows as a kind older brother figure can be the same Paul who brutally harmed Rashad, and this confusion is represented through Quinn’s fixation on the look on Paul’s face while he slammed Rashad to the ground. The novel ultimately does not exonerate Paul, but neither does it suggest that he is “only” a villain with no redeeming qualities. Rather, it shows that classifying people into heroes and villains obscures the more complicated reality that people can be kind and selfless in some instances while being cruel in others, while also emphasizing the role of racism in this inconsistency. Indeed, Paul’s racism is the main reason why he emerges as more of a villain than a hero, even as this binary ultimately proves to be too simplistic to represent the reality of life.
Heroes vs. Villains ThemeTracker
Heroes vs. Villains Quotes in All American Boys
I wasn’t a stand-in for Dad. Nobody could be that. When the IED got him in Afghanistan, he became an instant saint in Springfield. I wasn't him. I'd never be him. But I was still supposed to try. That was my role: the dutiful son, the
All-American boy with an All-American fifteen-foot deadeye jump shot and an All-American 3.5 GPA.
I begin almost every day the same way: Ma's voice in my head, telling me what I needed to do, what I needed to think about, how I needed to act. But on mornings like this one––or if Coach Carney was making us do suicides up and down the court for fifteen minutes, or when Dwyer dropped another five-pounder on either side of the bar on my last rep in the weight room––it was Dad's voice in my head, or at least what I thought was his voice. I hadn't heard it in so long, I couldn’t even tell if it was his or if I was making it up. Whatever it was, it got me to where I needed to get.
PUSH! If you don't, someone else will. LIFT! If you don't, someone else will. Faster faster, faster, faster FASTER!
Honestly, I just wanted to take it easy for the rest of the day. I didn’t want to hear Spoony preach about how hard it is to be black, or my father preach about how young people lack pride and integrity, making us easy targets. I didn't even want to think about the preacher preaching about how God is in control of it all, or my mother, my sweet, sweet mother caught in the middle of it all. The referee who blows the whistle but is way too nice to call foul on anyone. That’s her. She just wants me to be okay. That's it and that’s all. So if football was going to be the thing that took our minds off the mess for at least a few hours, then fine with me.
I felt like such an ass. I'd quickly convinced myself I had no idea who that kid with Paul was that night. And yeah, there were like a thousand kids in each grade at school, or whatever, but I did know him. Or know of him, really. I'd seen him––Rashad––in that uniform, and it'd made me think of my dad wearing his own at college. How my dad had looked proud in all those pictures.
“I mean, it's Paul. This is the same guy I’ve seen carrying my mom up the front steps, for God's sake.” I was thinking about that time Ma got trashed because it was her first wedding anniversary without Dad. Paul had been so
gentle. He'd taken the frigging day off just so she didn’t have to spend it alone. “She was tanked,” I said to Jill. “And he helped her home. I remember him putting her down on the couch and pulling the afghan over her.”
“Paulie's always been the good guy.”
“That's what I want to think.”
Now I was thinking about how, if I wanted to, I could walk away and not think about Rashad, in a way that English or Shannon or Tooms or any of the guys at school who were not white could not. Even if they didn't know Rashad, even if for some reason, they hated Rashad, they couldn’t just
ignore what happened to him; they couldn't walk away. They were probably afraid, too. Afraid of people like Paul. Afraid of cops in general. Hell, they were probably afraid of people like me. I didn’t blame them. I'd be afraid too, even if I was a frigging house like Tooms. But I didn't have to be because
my shield was that I was white. It didn't matter that I knew Paul. I could be all the way across the country in California and I'd still be white, cops and everyone else would still see me as just a “regular kid,” an “All-American” boy. “Regular.” “All American.” White. Fuck.
My dad, my dad, had paralyzed an unarmed kid, a black kid, and I had had no
idea. My dad shot a kid. I mean, to me, my father was the model of discipline and courage. Sure, he was stern, and sometimes judgmental, but I always felt like he meant well. But to that kid––and now my head was reeling––to that kid, my dad was no different than Officer Galluzzo. Another trigger-happy cop who was quick to assume and even quicker to shoot.
My brother took the bus trip down to Selma. He begged me to go. Begged me. But I told him it didn't matter. I told him that he was going to get himself killed, and that that wasn’t bravery, it was stupidity. So he went without
me. I watched the clips on the news. I saw him being beaten with everyone else, and realized that my brother, in fact, was the most courageous man I knew, because Selma had nothing to do with him. Well, one could argue that it did, a little bit. But he was doing it for us. All of us.
I did not want to be a hero. I did not want to make any of what had happened in the last week about me. There was a guy who'd just spent six days in the hospital because the guy who'd been my personal hero for four years had put him there.
I'd been thinking about that all day, but I didn’t have the words for it until Ma brought up Dad. Everybody wanted me to be loyal. Ma wanted me to be loyal. Guzzo wanted me to be loyal. Paul wanted me to be loyal. Your dad was loyal to the end, they'd all tell me. Loyal to his country, loyal to his family, they meant. But it wasn't about loyalty. It was about him standing up for what he believed in. And I wanted to be my dad's son. Someone who believed a better world was possible––someone who stood up for it.
Pictures of me throwing up the peace sign, some––the ones Spoony feared––of me flipping off the camera. Carlos and the fellas had been cropped out. These images would have nasty comments under them from people saying stuff like, Looks like he'd rob a store, and If he'd pull his pants up, maybe he would've gotten away with the crime! Lol, and Is that a gang sign? Other pictures were of me in my ROTC uniform. Of course, those had loads of comments like, Does this look like a thug? and If he were white with this uniform on, would you still question him?
What about Dad? Talk about a man who died for his convictions. How many times did he re-up after 9/11?. Three. I was old enough now to know he wasn’t fearless. He'd probably been scared shitless every time he went back. He wasn’t strong because he wasn’t afraid. No, he was strong because he kept doing it even though he was afraid.