The terms “hero” and “protagonist” have become nearly interchangeable. Writers and readers will nearly always refer to major characters in a story as the hero or the heroine.
While every lead character who is a hero or heroine is a protagonist, not every protagonist is a hero or heroine.
I think the events of the past week illustrated the difference in a startling way. When the bombs went off at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, almost the first thing people noticed when the footage ran on TV and the internet was how first responders and a few other individuals immediately ran TOWARDS the site of the explosions.
Almost everyone else—who was still mobile—ran away or walked around in a daze.
If anything makes someone a hero, it’s running towards the danger rather than away from it.
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