Percy’s quest culminates in a journey to the Underworld. How does his experience of death shape your understanding of his story? How does it affect his willingness to risk his own life, and to use violence against others? How does death, the fear of death, or the desire to overcome death motivate his actions? How does the central place of death in this narrative affect your own connection to or reaction to Percy’s story?
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Children of Medea (Family A): Post your comments here!
I think Percy’s ultimate choice to leave his mother behind and save his friends from death makes him appear more mature in the eyes of the reader, and in turn makes him seem like more of a hero. Sacrificing an immediate reunion with his mother for people he has known for a comparatively short time is unexpected from a 12 year old, yet shows an understanding of ethics, as he promises to return to the underworld to save his mother, without putting his friends in danger. He is able to separate the two quests and think logically, even in the face of what I would imagine is intense emotion. Thus, he becomes more of a hero in our eyes.
I agree. I thought it was interesting that Percy became more of a modern hero and less of a traditional Greek hero over the course of the story (and I wasn’t quite sure he really fit into the Greek hero category to begin with). He is extremely selfless and sort of ignores the true nature of the quest he’s sent on in order to find his mother – a quest that otherwise would give him glory and might be tantalizing to a traditional Greek hero. Also his ethics and willingness to put his life on the line for others really differentiate him as well.
Percy’s actions in these chapters very much show him to be a Demi-god, straying from normal actions of a hero in classic greek mythology. His actions are really human, as he makes sacrifices for his friends and exhibits a high moral code.
I agree with your point about the reader’s perception of Percy as a hero, but I think his choice to leave his mother is more complicated than a mere show of Percy’s newfound maturity. While this story features magic and the supernatural, Percy is nonetheless still a 12-year-old boy who makes rash decisions and acts impulsively. His motivation for his quest was to save his mother, and the fact that he is able to change his mind so quickly showcases the fact that he is just a young boy and follows his heart more than his head. While I do think his sudden change in priorities shows a level of emotional maturity and intelligence, I also think it points to his childlike decision-making practices and his tendency to acts rashly and impulsively.
I really appreciate the conversation going back and forth. My thinking of Percy’s move is similar to Orly’s. The fact that he chose to save his friends over his mother, which was his initial goal of the quest, fits a typical coming of age stories that we often see in modern novels. Therefore, I agree with Nat that Percy’s decision fits closer to a modern-time hero than a greek mythological hero. However, going deeper into the psychology of Percy and keeping in mind that he is a typical 12-year-old. His previous actions have shown that he isn’t one of those mature kids.
Moreover, the author spends a tremendous amount of time describing how vital the mom is to Percy. Therefore, it was a little odd to me that Percy would actually make such a choice. And it makes me think that it is the author’s perspective and expectations coming into the play. As mature adults, the author and readers, too, expect that the main protagonist in that same situation would make the sacrifice and choose the more ethically sound decision. And when the protagonist does so, we treat him as “matured.” But is he really going to act like this if he were a 12-year-old, just like how the author built him up until that point? I remain indecisive.
I think Orly brings up a great point about the importance of considering Percy’s age. As a twelve-year-old boy who is not close to developing his full cognitive decision-making abilities, it is not irrational to believe that he is capable of such drastic, sudden changes in motivation. I can confidently say that at the age of twelve, most of us would have dropped everything to save our mothers. Also, Percy’s empathy shines through in this decision, further exemplifying the fact that he is a demi-god and still has emotions and a moral code intact.
I think that is is not him giving up his mom, or even abandoning his original quest. I think that Percy choosing to leave his friends behind and his mom or even becomes the hero. I think that his choice is his fully embracing himself as a demigod. He is fully entering the Greek life and accepting that this is his life. At the beginning of the novel Percy was just a student that enjoyed Latin. But now in the short amount of time he has matured and chosen to be a child of the big three. I think that his mom, since being human, represents his old life, and after making sure she was alive, Percy hands the next (not making her second choice but not in need of immediate help) goes to save Olympus
As they are first entering the underworld, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover first go through the Fields of Asphodel where people are waiting, and then pass the judgment pavilion where people are going to Eternal Damnation or Elysium. When they see Elysium, Percy thinks, “The isle of the blest, for people who had chosen to be reborn three times, and three times achieved Elysium. Immediately I knew that’s where I wanted to go when I died. ‘That’s what it’s all about’ Annabeth said like she was reading my thoughts. ‘That’s the place for heroes'”(19.302)
I thought that this quote was really interesting in thinking about what it means to be Hero and what acts are considered heroic. What violence is acceptable and what sacrifices still land you in Elysium? When Percy later chooses to save his friends from dying over his mom, does that makes him a hero that would land in Elysium? Monsters don’t die, so is the violence toward them still a heroic act of violence? What is condoned and what is not for a hero that’s trying to find his way into Elysium in the future?
I think your question about which acts of violence are condoned and which are not is an interesting one. If I remember correctly, decisions regarding a hero’s admittance to Elysium are determined by a panel of rotating judges in the Percy Jackson world. So essentially, the matter of what is acceptable and what is not is entirely dependent on the individual judges’ thoughts on the matter. I think this is so fascinating, since naturally everyone will have a different opinion on what constitutes a “good life,” and thus heroes must ultimately live according to their own morals and not an established code.
I really liked your questions regarding how morality is valued/assessed in the Percy Jackson canon. Building on Vivian’s response, I find the debate between personal morality and a universal moral code to be particularly interesting when applied to a book that draws so heavily on ancient myth, religion, and ritual. Many people define a seemingly universal moral code through religion and while this differs between religious groups, it can be seen as an established code for those that follow it – it’s interesting that, although heavily influenced by ancient myth and religion, this doesn’t exist for these heroes. I also think the idea of the fates can connect here – a tragic hero no matter how morally “good” is still doomed by fate; whether doom simply means death (could still be elysium) is unknown in this case though.
Your question about what makes someone a hero worthy of Elysium is very intriguing. It is interesting to think about whether heroes in the Percy Jackson world are determined more by the greek model of a hero or the present-day idea of a hero. Today, heroes are typically seen as people who are courageous, noble, and put others above themselves. Greek heroes were not virtuous, cared about their own pleasures, and were not seen as ethical. In the world of Percy Jackson, would a hero have to meet the modern-day definition of a hero or the greek definition of a hero? In my opinion, since the Percy Jackson series is set in the modern day, the modern-day hero archetype would determine whether someone lands in Elysium or not. If the greek hero archetype was considered, I feel that it would make it easier for people to land in Elysium.
Percy’s journey to the Underworld, in my opinion, causes him to be much more attentive to how he engages in violence. His experience in the Fields of Asphodel, in particular, is very impactful. Upon returning home and seeing his stepfather, Percy ultimately decides it’s not his right to send Gabe to the Underworld, despite his hatred for the man. This is a marked difference from Percy’s earlier eagerness to dispatch his enemies to the Underworld, as he even notes that, “A month ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Now…” (351). After seeing how souls just wander aimlessly in the Fields of Asphodel, Percy doubts if he has a right to sentence someone to that fate, no matter his hatred for the individual. As others have mentioned, Percy’s experience with death causes him to mature, and it also forces him to reconsider how and with whom he engages in violence.
I agree with this perspective of how Percy matures due to death, and I think that this growth also happens at the moment when Percy gives up the dream of saving both his friends and his mother. He figures out that by choosing 3 out of the 4 people he will essentially be sentencing someone else to torture or death, and once again he relies on his mother, the idea that she “would not allow” him to save her if she had the chance. The hesitation in the choice to me is an experience that allows him to understand that he does not necessarily have to make choices surrounding death alone, similar to how he holds power but shares it with his mother to deal with Gabe.
I definitely agree with this analysis of Percy’s choice to leave it up to Sally to decide Gabe’s fate. This moment was certainly a shift in his perspective of what was going on around him and the consequences of his actions. At first this was just a quest to save his mom, and the lighting bolt was just something he had to do a long the way. Visiting the Underworld makes Percy realize that this quest and the Gods are so much bigger than just him. This was also a part in this book in which we see Percy”s inate ability to feel empathy, something I feel many Greek heroes lack. I feel that Percy’s empathy is what sets him a part from the typical Greek hero. Throughout the book, and if you’ve read more than just the Lightning Theif, Percy makes many selfless and empathetic decisions when it comes to his friends and family. This loyalty, the readers learn later in the series is a very integral part of his character development, and to me makes him more of a modern hero than one typically seen in epics.
Percy’s experiences with death and the Underworld made him less of a Greek hero to me – he shows immense selflessness and altruism in choosing to save his friends over his mother. His and his friends’ close calls with death and relative fearlessness in its face motivate their selfless actions and make their caring for each other even that more poignant – for example, Percy wastes little time almost falling to his death in the pit in the Underworld to try to save Grover. And, his restraint in wanting to freeze Gabe because he understands the pain the ghosts in the Field of Asphodel felt – understands the immensity of death – demonstrates his growth throughout the story.
I agree with Nat’s point that Percy’s decisions have really differentiated him from typical Greek heroes. I feel that Riordan isn’t looking to make Percy Jackson a true Greek hero, but rather a hero by today’s standards: something that would be much more appealing to his young audience. Despite the arguably easier and more Greek hero-like way of doing things, his choice to spare Gabe highlights Percy’s moral character and understanding of the finality of death which is often lacking in typical Greek heroes.
I agree with Nat’s comment that Percy sort of breaks the mold of a traditional Greek hero. He shows empathy and simply emotion, even, for those around him. His emotional growth throughout the story, and even throughout the trip simply in the Underworld is very interesting. I also do agree with the fact that he didn’t save his mother. I think that within itself really shows his emotional growth. That was the whole point of his quest, for him intrinsically, and in the end, he didn’t save her. Although it all did work out for him in the end, he didn’t know that, and I think his empathy for Gabe also shows how he finally learned to think for others instead of simply himself.
During his journey to the Underworld, Percy is only equipped with 3 pearls to save 3 people. Thus, he is faced with the question of who to save, and who to leave behind. At this moment I think we see a very different side of Percy. We see composure, we see strategy, and we see thoughtfulness, all of which are characteristics Percy does not typically display.
This moment also made me think back to our discussion in class about what makes Percy a hero. The reality of this situation is that Percy does not accomplish what he set out to do and does not attempt to save his mother at that moment. I found myself questioning whether that truly was “heroic” behavior. That being said I think the decision to leave his mother behind was strategic and the right call but I find myself struggling with the question of did Percy truly act “heroic” in this instance. Before leaving he says that he will find a way to get her out, but it seemed to me that he almost had accepted her fate as permanently trapped in the underworld and for the first time in the book was no longer motivated by saving his mother.
As we learned in class, defining hero is kinda weird because of all of the different types of heroes. I would argue that between the two choices of saving vs not saving his mother, not saving her in this moment is the more practical option that is less selfish, which is more like the modern hero. But choosing his mother would have been very much the behavior of a greek hero. Also, I’m not sure he isn’t motivated to save his mother anymore. He does say he’ll find a way to get her back (even though admittedly it does seem like wishful thinking), and I don’t see why his motivation would change just because he failed once.
When Percy learns that the Underworld exists and is where people go after they die, he feels a “tiny, hopeful fire” in his mind (6.78). Like many people, he is reassured by knowing where his mother may have gone. However, once Percy has visited the Underworld, his new knowledge is anything but comforting. Reflecting on the disturbing sights of the Underworld, he wonders if he has “the right to send someone there” (21.351). Riordan subverts the idea that knowing where people go after death provides comfort to people.
I think Riordan really reflects the western, modern views on death through Percy’s journey in the Underworld. As Avery mentioned, at the beginning of the book, Percy feels a sort of comfort knowing that his mother was likely sent down to the Underworld, a place where he assumed was more lively than what he actually encountered during his quest. To that end, Riordan shows both the peaceful, positive side of the underworld (like the Isle of the Blessed) while also hinting at the darker, more “evil” aspects of death (as shown in Tartarus and the screams/torture). For many people in the western world, death is seen as a taboo subject and an uncertain phenomena. Riordan provides both perspectives.
I think that Percy realizes that this game the gods are playing is much bigger than just retrieving his mother and proving his innocence. He realizes this as he leaves the Underworld with a desire “to have a serious conversation with the god who’d tricked (him)” (19.319). He then proceeds to battle, not just a god, but THE god of war, being the impulsive 12-year-old he is, and somehow manages to win. Up until this point, much of the violence we see from Percy in this book was an act of self-defense and instinct to protect him and his friends, however, this is one of those moments where the roles are reversed and he provokes Ares.
I also think this scene directly counters the situation with Gabe. Whereas with Ares, Percy spends no time taking his sword out and challenging him, Percy approaches Gabe, another hated figure, very differently. Percy realizes that he has no right to play “god” and decide the fate of his stepfather. Even though his revenge would be very satisfying to witness, we actually see him give his mother the decision on what to do with Gabe, out of respect for her, defeating the “hero complex” that we see so much of in this book and across Greek mythology.
I agree that Percy acting first rather than protecting himself from Ares was a bit different from how Percy went about violence up until that point in the story. However, we get a look into Percy’s mind right before the battle starts as he is reminded of something Annabeth said earlier on. She said, “Even strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes”. From this, we learn that Percy recognizes Ares strength, but also his weakness of being only focused on fighting. Ares said right before their fight, “I’ve been fighting for eternity, kid. My strength is unlimited and I cannot die.” But Percy realizes that he has other tools at his disposal other than strength that could help him in his battle against the god of war.
The instance of Percy saving his friends from death changed my own perspective of Percy and what it means to be a hero. He did not successfully complete the quest he set out to do. Typically I would think of a hero as someone who has completed what they are expected from their quest. Percy did not carry out his quest, but the selflessness and deliberation that allowed him to choose to save his friends show a different idea of a hero. I think taking into consideration what will achieve the greatest amount of good for the most amount of people is important when weighing decisions. Percy did this and evolved my own idea of a hero. It is not simply getting done what is expected but being able to adapt and react when circumstances change.
I agree with Lauren’s analysis of Percy’s development both as a character and as a hero. After his return to New York, Percy’s actions differ from what I feel they would have before his journey. Even though Gabe is an abusive husband, Percy decides that he shouldn’t be the one to make the decision regarding Gabe’s life and leaves the decision to his mother, who makes the choice most appealing to the intended audience of the book. Percy also grapples with risk and living a heroic but dangerous lifestyle or staying safe at Camp Halfblood, where his final decision was impacted by his experiences in the underworld.
Jared, I agree. I found myself thinking about how Percy’s interaction with the Underworld would affect his actions moving forward. His view of what eternity after death looks like surely has a huge impact on him after he returns to the mortal world. The Fields of Asphodel, and certainly the Fields of Punishment, seemed like an unpleasant way to spend eternity, and a comparatively small amount of people made it to the Fields of Elysium compared to the other two. I feel that this sight along with Annabeth’s comments about heroes in Elysium does something major for Percy.
Firstly, it seems as thought his view of the reality of the afterlife puts immense pressure on him to become this heroic figure and complete his quest. He explains that he, a twelve year-old kid, must get the bolt back to Zeus and stop the war between all of the Greek Gods (19.317). Furthermore, his desire to make something of his life before entering the Underworld drives him to leave the safe but mundane confines of Camp Half-Blood. Percy’s decision to leave the decision about Gabe up to his mother also makes me think that he understands the power he holds as a demigod and as someone who has seen the Underworld. Death’s effect on Percy is likely an attempt by Riordan to make Percy appear as a coming-of-age hero who is beginning to understand the responsibility in his power
Something that I got caught up on while reading Percy’s experience of the Underworld was when he was observing Elysium. His thoughts were of “how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to the Fields of Asphodel or even the Fields of Punishment” (302). Percy comes to a pretty quick conclusion: that “so few people did good in their lives” (302). I think this is an interesting glimpse into Percy’s reasoning and worldview. He sees the Fields of Asphodel and imagines an eternity there. This twelve-year-old makes the journey to the land of the dead, comes to that conclusion, and then makes the difficult decision to leave his own mother there. I do wonder a bit how much a statement Riordan is trying to make with the Underworld that he has crafted.
I think the death and violence is very telling of its audience. I think the overall story doesn’t really present us with many questions of morality. Generally, Percy fights dangerous monsters only, and only is really capable of harming monsters. I feel like the story also sort of tells us that Percy is good with the way in which is essiential throws himself into danger without genuine fear.
Children of Artemis (Family B): Post your comments here!
Percy demonstrates courage and a willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good: “preventing World War III”. Throughout the entire novel, when monsters approach him, not once does he ever back down. Instead, he stands his ground and takes action in any physical altercation that faces him, no matter how disturbing the creature is. His willingness to risk his own life makes him a “hero” and is the main factor shaping my judgment and understanding of Percy Jackson’s character. His ability to prevent a global catastrophe and the death of millions motivates his actions and forms the entire plot and central conflict.
I agree with Ben’s point that Percy is motivated by keeping his community and his friends safe, and we can see how he cares about the greater good. The concept of death is complicated in this novel since those that have died are able to be trapped in the Underworld by Hades, and Percy has hopes deep down of saving his mother. In chapter 19, when Percy chooses saving his friends even though he has a chance to save his mother, we truly see how deeply Percy cares for others and how he is motivated by preventing death in his community at the cost of his own grief.
I feel that Riordan successfully sets up the magnitude of Percy’s decision by emphasizing his love for his Mom throughout the novel. It’s clearly laid out that his mom is one of the only people he cares about before arriving to camp. His Mom sacrificed herself for him earlier in the novel with the Minotaur, which adds to the dramatic significance oof his final decision to save his friends. We as readers grow to care for Percy’s mom, as she embodied selflessness and motherly love, underscoring the heroic nature of his decision.
While Percy’s actions were influential in saving many lives, I don’t really know if that was within his field of view at the time. As would be perfectly normal and expected from a 12 year old, he is, of course, primarily concerned with the safety of his mother, and seems to be on that adrenaline high throughout the entire novel as he defeats monsters. However, the novel slightly undermines this violence by making it so that death isn’t permanent. I believe this undermining of the violence allows Percy to grow, heroically and morally, as he doesn’t have the weight of slayed monsters weighing on his conscience. Ultimately, however, his decision to leave the choice about Gabe’s fate up to his mother, and not automatically choosing violence, demonstrates his growth and maturation as a hero and character. The Lightning Thief, though a mythological story, is primarily a coming of age story, and I believe that the shift away from violence demonstrates this growth and maturing.
Percy’s experience with death in this book is interesting, as I feel as though it sparks a newfound curiosity within him. During his time in the underworld, Percy is exposed to both mythological/supernatural features and real-world components. The mythological features take the form of Cerberus and the Furies (for example), but these are contrasted with real world features such as security lanes, one called “EZ Death” and the other called “Attendant on Duty” (18.291). Arguably the hybrid of these two features, mythological and real-world, intrigue a young Percy who is still trying to conceptualize what death even means. All of the different features of the underworld fill Percy with curiosity; I argue this curiosity fuels Percy to continue his quest and motivate him to save himself, his friends & family, and the rest of the world.
I agree with Celia’s point that curiosity drives Percy’s quest to the Underworld. In addition, I think it is important to add how new and confusing this must be for Percy. He only had ten days to return to complete his quest, and with it stopping a massive war among the gods. Only just a few days prior did he even learn about the existence of the gods and the world that he knew only of in “myths.” I think that the curiosity mentioned above was especially fueled by how sensational this journey is. Percy’s entire world was turned upside down and then he is expected to save the world from the destruction of gods he did not even know existed in the days prior. I think Percy’s relationship with death is made even more confusing by this concept of the Underworld and what happens after death. When Percy faces the dilemma of choosing his friends or his mother’s life, he ultimately saves his friends. I think this indicates how Percy has grown throughout the novel and how his priorities have shifted in this short time.
Additionally, I think Percy is confused by death. There is no mention of him encountering death before the contents of the novel, and I think that until you experience the death of someone close to you, you can not conceptualize or understand it. However, Percy’s grief is immediately countered with a way to get his mother back. Therefore, he doesn’t understand the severity of death nor taking a life, as most of his battles will never result in the true death of his opponent. This makes me consider him less mature.
Yes I agree with Francis, because of the fact that he knew that he could save his mother after her death, the impact of her death never truly sunk in. But ultimately his choice to save his friends show a great deal of maturity for someone so young. Though I will say that most of the violence he commits has no real consequences as monsters eventually come back. I believe the only real act of violence he had the choice to make was with smelly Gabe but he doesn’t actually have to make that decision. He never really has to grapple with the effects of a “true” death in this story, because his friends and his mother are fine in the end.
I agree with Celia and JJ’s points on Curiosity that he finds throughout the novel. With understanding Percy’s background, it helps us understand his connection to those closest to him. However, it also confuses his thoughts as he has to battle his own understanding of the underworld. His want to overcome death drives his decision making which leads to the earlier point about curiosity. As he battles to understand death, he also battles to further his connection with those nearest to him. I do wonder, that with such a complex thought process as death, if it confuses his connection to others and the concept of the underworld.
While Percy is in the Underworld, he is faced with the difficult decision of saving only three of the following people: himself, his mother, Grover, and Annabeth. He ultimately chooses to save himself and his two friends, knowing that he had to return the bolt to Zeus and explain the truth and that his friends had saved him time and time again. I think the ambiguity surrounding death in this novel—whether someone is truly gone forever or is able to once again enter the world at the mercy of Hades—is an important part of this decision. When Percy chooses to save his friends, he says to his mother, “‘I’ll be back. I’ll find a way’” (Riordan, p. 317). He is hopeful that he will eventually save his mother, despite the prophecy that he “will fail to save what matters most in the end” (Riordan, p. 317). I also think that the ambiguity surrounding death increases Percy’s willingness to risk his life throughout his quest. I wonder whether he would have been as courageous if there was no chance of re-entering the world after death.
I agree with Lara’s point about the significance of ambiguity in Percy’s experience of death. In the world of the Ancient Greeks, death does not mean the end, and Percy’s story reflects that. Nobody really ever “dies” because they have life after death in the Underworld. Additionally, most (if not all) of the characters/monsters that die in this book come back, or at least have the ability to do so. This must lower the stakes of dying for Percy, because after his journey to the Underworld, he loses almost all regard for death, even going so far as to fight Ares. Percy realizes the role of a hero in both the modern and Greek sense as he becomes perpetually ready to sacrifice himself for his quest, morals, and loved ones.
Unlike most Greek heroes, Percy seems to be deeply uncomfortable effectively doling out death sentences to those who cross him, especially after his trip to the Underworld. Even when considering whether or not to kill his abusive stepfather, he decides he can’t be the one to send anybody to the place he saw, no matter how much they deserve it. So in this, he really breaks tradition with just about every other mythological Greek hero, who had no qualms about lethal force, whether or not it was necessary. Percy, on the other hand, doesn’t feel comfortable being the judge, jury, and executioner, and passes the decision off to his mom.
I definitely agree with this point that Percy is quite different from other Greek heroes in this way, although I think the fact that Percy is much younger than most heroes (only 12???) and also the fact that the story is set in modern times both also play roles here. However, although he does not directly petrify his stepfather, I think it is also important to highlight the fact that him encouraging his mother to essentially kill Gabe does not seem like something he would have done before his journey to Hades. After slaying countless monsters and traveling to the realm of death itself, he became more confident in both himself and those close to him, and decides that he can trust his mother to deal with Gabe as she sees fit.
He does appear to accept violence as occasionally necessary by the end of the book. As Brendan said his encouragement of his mother to kill Gabe (in a much more permanent way then Hades I think?) is something that shows how he has changed through the novel. In that acceptance of violence, he becomes more like a Greek hero.
I agree that after visiting the underworld Percy becomes uncomfortable being in a position of power over someone’s life. This is part comes from his observations that “The dead aren’t scary. They’re just sad” (19.301). With this understanding of death he feels as though it is not his position to sentence someone to the eternal sadness he observed. Although he does not encounter any monsters after visiting the underworld we get the sense that the same moral code does not apply to them. Even though both Gabe and monsters would be a threat to him (although in different ways) the main difference is that monsters will come back, hummans won’t. Because killing a monster doesn’t put him in the position of sentencing someone to enteral sadness, he does not have the same qualms with hurting monsters as he does with people.
Percy’s willingness to risk his own life is so the people he cares the most about; his mother, Annabeth, and Grover don’t die trying to save him. It’s Heroic in a way because he’s saving them by risking his own life but at the same time it’s for his own. But at the same time he also risked his life to save other he doesn’t even know just because. I think it’s sad because I see it as he doesn’t think he’s worth dying for yet he is worth dying for others. He has no choice but ti=o use violence in many cases like fighting ares obviously he had the choice to not fight. If he did run, it’d look bad on him. He maybe felt like he had to prove to himself that he was a god’s son.
Percy’s Journey to the Underworld and experience of death reaffirms and bolsters his desire to become a hero. After seeing Elysium in chapter 19, “the place for heroes” as Annabeth calls it, Percy is sure that “that’s where I [he] wanted to go when I [he] died”. Percy now proceeds knowing that his actions must reflect that of a hero. His willingness to risk his own life and use violence increases significantly. This change in his resolve is seen again in chapter 20, when Percy declares that he “was done running from monsters. Or Hades, or Ares, or anybody”. He then fights with a different tenacity, fear seemingly gone or reduced because of his growing sense of heroism. The change in Percy’s behavior after his experience in the Underworld also cements his chaecterization of a hero to the reader. After his declarations and successful battle against Ares, the reader is forced to see him as a budding hero instead of a child needing protection. He is even now protecting Annabeth and Grover who were previously tasked with protecting him.
Percy’s encounters with death throughout the story, particularly his reactions to the dangers, underscore his journey with his own identity from an average boy to a demigod hero. In the beginning of the novel, Percy describes himself as a “dyslexic, hyperactive boy with a D+ report card, kicked out of school for the sixth time in six years” (38). He sees himself simply as a boy with a learning disability. In one of his first big encounters with danger and death, Percy defeats the minotaur in attempts to keep he and his mother safe (rather than a heroic agenda).
However, even after defeating the minotaur and arriving at Camp Half Blood, Percy still thought of himself as average. Percy still exudes low-esteem evident when he thinks that “the only thing [he] really excelled at was canoeing, and that wasn’t the kind of heroic skill people expected to see from the kid who had beaten the Minotaur” (108). Percy also emphasizes that he does not believe in Greek Gods and refers to them as myths.
However, as Percy faces more challenges and danger, we start to see him grow into his identity as a capable, important, demi-god. For instance, in at the end of chapter 13, Percy, faces danger when he runs into the monsters Echidna and Chimera. As Chimera through fire at him, Percy “prayed” for help from his father and jumped into the river for protection in his powers (211). This shows that he then not only believed in the Gods, but also believed and trusted in their power. When faced with dangers later in the novel, Percy also takes a larger role in leading the charge in plan and in action showing new confidence and belief in himself, his role, and his powers.
By the end of the book, death loses some of its meaning to Percy. Initially, his whole motivation is to bring his mother back, but as he explores the world, he has just discovered the irreversibility of death is challenged, and his motives change. Monsters turn to dust and come back to the living world constantly. Even being in the Underworld doesn’t necessarily mean death: Percy, Annabeth, and Grover escape the Underworld using the pearls, and ultimately Percy’s mom is released by Hades. Now, this doesn’t mean he doesn’t value life anymore; he knows from experience how gruesome the Underworld is for the majority of people. But if anything, this actually makes him think about the implications of his actions more and forces him to weigh the use of violence. Percy still uses violence, but we see him considering its implications more than we did at the start of his journey. Percy even sees this change in himself, which he narrates to the reader when deciding the fate of Gabe, “A month ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. Now…” and he trails off before making a decision (439). Death isn’t a primary motivator to Percy anymore, but because he still sees it as a painful existence, he shows more reflection than he was at the beginning.
I think Riley makes a really good point here about Percy’s new understanding of death. In knowing that death is less permanent that he previously believed, the reader can understand more about Percy’s decision making. This new understanding of death is central to Percy’s decision to leaves his mother in the Underworld. Percy knows that his mother’s “death” isn’t necessarily permanent and that he doesn’t need to save her in that moment. As a result, he priorities Annabeth and Grover, whose presence is more important to his quest.
While I agree with others that Percy becomes more mature throughout the novel and this is demonstrated by the decisions he makes regarding sacrifice, death, and the greater good, I wonder if we aren’t congratulating Percy a little too much for bringing about Gabe’s death. Of course, Percy’s mom deserves an escape from Gabe’s abuse, and Gabe is a horrible person in every way, but he IS just that: a person. After slaying all these regenerative monsters and emerging unscathed from the Underworld, has Percy become desensitized to death? He’s only twelve years old, remember. Is his willingness to see another human die at his mother’s hands perhaps a result of trauma, rather than character development? Every monster he’s killed will one day return. Does he understand what it means to end a life? Maybe this was the only way to ensure his mother’s safety; I don’t blame him for the choice he made. I just feel that he was too young to make it.
I think this is a really interesting point when we are considering the finality of Gabe’s death. Throughout the novel, although we see a lot of death, there is a lack of permanence that desensitizes Percy and the reader to its true significance. As we have discussed in class, violence is not something that Greek mythology shies away from and Riordion doesn’t necessarily shy away from it either, although he makes it less graphic. As a young reader the idea that you have to be able to kill things (monsters mainly in this book) in order to be a hero is an interesting message to wrestle with. While most of us did not finish the book with that conclusion in mind when we were younger, I am curious about how this message perpetuates the violence that is so central to Greek myth to a younger audience.
Children of Cerberus (Family C): Post your comments here!
Percy Jackson’s venture to the underworld shapes him as a modern-day hero, as we describe now. He finds an understanding of sacrifice as he risks losing his own life to save his mothers. At this moment, there is a shift where he not only realizes he might die, but instead, he is willing to die if that’s what is necessary to complete his journey to the underworld.
Percy’s desire to overcome the death by saving his mother from the Underworld motivates him to take on his quest, despite the immense danger that he put himself through to get to the Underworld like fighting Medusa, and the actual task of entering the Underworld. Percy’s devotion to rescuing his mother further builds Percy’s character, as exemplifies his bravery and determination to do whatever it takes for those he loves. However, Percy’s love could also be viewed as a weakness to be exploited by his enemies in order to exploit him, as Hades knew that taking Percy’s mother would lure him into the Underworld.
I think it is interesting how you say Percy’s love could be seen as weakness. While that is definitely true, I wonder if it is that love that helps him make the hard decision to leave his mother behind and save his friends instead. I also think it’s interesting how in most stories “villians” view love as a weakness, whereas the “heroes” see it as a strength.
I agree with Jason’s point about how Percy has formed into much more of a modern-day hero rather than a Greek hero. As he has his own mission to saving his mother, but each time he is faced with danger his first thoughts are about protecting the others involved. Not even just his friends, but all of the surrounding witnesses. For example, in St. Louis he jumps and falls 600+ feet on the small chance that his disappearance would cause the monster to follow suit, but he had no idea if he would survive the fall or not. He did this to protect others, not himself which makes him a modern day hero.
I couldn’t agree more, Jason. Percy’s experience with the underworld rounds out his story as the ‘hero’s journey’ we think of in contemporary writing, rather than the ancient Greek idea of a hero being anyone with some divine lineage and power. His willingness for self-sacrifice and putting his friends and family above his own desires is very typical of a modern-day ‘hero’, and quite different from most heroes in ancient Greek stories.
Since the beginning of Percy’s assimilation into Camp Half Blood, his one underlying motivation for taking a quest and learning more about Hades and the Underworld was to rescue his mother from ‘death’. To travel all the way there and be confronted with the choice of saving his mother or his friends, Percy decides to save his friends in order to prevent a war between the Gods. His choice reflects his growing bond with this distant family and his acceptance of his new life as a demigod. Percy’s actions leading into the Underworld also demonstrate his preference to settling problems with words or nonviolent actions and only acting aggressively when there is no option for resolution left. His aim isn’t to kill, but to protect his loved ones which means that he doesn’t seek to spread death around him, but to prevent it. As a hero, Percy is more concerned over the well-being of others than any glory that could be offered.
I find Jennifer’s point about Percy’s main motivation being to protect others interesting especially because Percy does not quite fully comprehend the benefits that result from completing a quest or defeating a monster in the context of the Greek world. Perhaps it is not that he is concerned primarily with protecting his loved ones and instead that he is only acting the way he is conditioned. In the beginning of the book we see him acting protective over Grover and wanting to fight the bullies on his behalf. The relationship the two establish in the very beginning chapters makes Percy’s decision to save his friends over his mother less surprising.
Also, it is interesting to note Grover’s comment that “I’m a satyr […] We don’t have souls like humans do. He can
torture me until I die, but he won’t get me forever. I’ll just be reincarnated as a flower or something. It’s the best way.” (19.294) This implies that Hades’ power can only be wielded over souls, yet also leaves me questioning whether the reincarnated object is aware of their surroundings and is capable of feeling. When one transitions from their life on earth to some form of afterlife what becomes the nature of the relationship of the agent to their memories and past experiences? How does the passage of time become warped in a place like the Underworld?
I also think that Percy’s choice to save himself and his friends over his mother, despite journeying to the underworld with the intention to save his mother, distinguishes him as a modern-day hero. Often, Greek heroes are presented as the sole leader of a group. For example, Odysseus, in the Odyssey, is the captain of his ship and is the only one making decisions for the entire crew. Additionally, when they pass by the sirens, he is presented as the only man strong enough to hear their song. However, it is arguable that Percy would not have completed his journey without Annabeth and Grover; he depends on them for advice and protection, therefore depicting him as not the smartest or strongest of the group. The value he places on friendship and aid he seeks from them separates Percy from the loneliness of the Greek hero but parallels the modern literary heroes, like Harry Potter, etc.
I think Percy is not as motivated by his own death than the death of his loved ones. His actions are centered around his mother and the fear of her demise, more so than the fear of his own. Also, this fear separates him from the “classical heros”, who are generally very selfish and often driven by want of fame. Percy’s fear of his mother’s death drives him to mature faster, as we see throughout the book. His whole arc is growing into who he is, and the instigation is the fear of losing his loved ones.
The world of Greek Gods is so new and confusing to Percy in the book, and death and the Underworld is even more overwhelming and different than his previous mortal life. He sees his mother “killed” by the Minotaur and then finds out she is still alive. He becomes reckless and focused on saving his mother, while discovering a new world that is so different than his previous one. A world where monsters and mothers are killed and come back to life in the Underworld. His innate desire to save his mother and general confusion about how death actually works in the new world blinds him from acting rationally.
Percy’s journey to the Underworld is a pivotal moment of his story, one that demonstrates personal growth. Percy begins as your typical middle schooler worried about finals and bullies, but now he is grappling with life or death situations and a responsibility to prevent World War III. He handles this situation maturely and selflessly, willing to die to save countless others. His actions in the Underworld are proof that he has grown from a troubled middle school boy to a modern-day hero.
I agree with the idea that Percy’s journey to the Underworld is one that marks his considerable growth and development as a hero in the book. One thing I definitely noticed was the split between his ordinary life, and the life he has been thrown into–one that is marked by several opportunities where death and loss were possible, although sometimes ambiguous. We do see a benevolent growth in his priorities and concerns as he tackles the world of the Greek gods and comes to terms with his demi-god nature. In interacting with the Underworld and facing the possibility of death(either his own or the death of his loved ones), Percy is faced with a lot of decisions, but it seems as though interacting with death and the Underworld in this new aspect of his life makes him choose the path of hero, something that interestingly mimics moments earlier on in the book in his everyday life. We see glimpses of this bravery and courageousness earlier on the book, such as in his interactions/relationship with Gabe, his step-father, but it seems as though facing the adversity and violence of the Underworld shifts the development of his character much further in the direction of a hero.
I feel like Percy’s experience with the Underworld makes him much more willing to take risks and throw regard for his own safety aside. Even within the underworld, he was willing to sacrifice his own life for his mothers but only did not do so because it would have destroyed Sally for her son to trade his life for hers. Not only this, but directly after escaping Hades Percy immediately fights incredibly violently on the beach, of course due to circumstances but also not fully regarding threats to his own safety, challenging Aries himself. His experiences with mortality push him to take great risks, through his own emotions with death, and through his mother’s death.
What struck me during this rereading of The Lightning Thief was Percy’s immediate fascination with Elysium. If, say, Achilles is on the Isle of the Blessed even with his history of pillaging and r*pe, wouldn’t Percy, without pillaging and r*pe, not be allowed in Elysium?
There is something interesting about what makes someone worthy of Elysium. I feel we can safely say that in Riordan’s sanitized greek mythology, r*pe does not earn one’s way to Elysium. However, Riordan does put people like Thomas Jefferson and Shakespeare on the board to judge people worthy of who is worth of punishment and who is worthy of Elysium. Why them? Is it a continuation of his “western society” theme. Minos (remaining information taken from wikipedia) is also a judge of the dead in Riordan’s cannon, however, this is not his invention. Minos seems to be a confusing figure in terms of moral judgement, so much that roman philosophers suggested that there may be two different kings with the same name of Minos to account for his varied actions. I wonder if there was any thought of Minos’s actions that Riordan had when he chose to mention Minos, or if he simple knew that he was in some myths considered to be a judge. Is Riordan setting up some ambiguousness in terms of the judges decisions and the judges themselves?
I feel as if it is not his goal for us to see it that way.
When Percy thinks, “But I thought of how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to the Fields of Asphodel or even the Fields of Punishment. So few people did good in their lives. It was depressing”, I don’t think that we are supposed to view him as ill-informed. However, we see no real evidence throughout the book of the gods ever really being good, yet the one character I can think of that goes against the gods, Luke, seems to act completely evil.
I guess I think, maybe to put it more concisely, the and view we are given of death and those who judge the dead seem odd in some way. In this book at least, and I can’t remember the rest too well, the questioning of the god’s seems almost superficial to me, but the other books may address it more.
Annabeth and Percy long for Elysium and Percy seems to judge those who didn’t do good in their lives, but to my memory, there is no question of it those in Elysium are worthy of it.
What struck me during this rereading of The Lightning Thief was Percy’s immediate fascination with Elysium. If, say, Achilles is on the Isle of the Blessed even with his history of pillaging and r*pe, wouldn’t Percy, without pillaging and r*pe, not be allowed in Elysium?
I think death is something that may have made anyone in our world more careful. But since this is Percy Jackson, and the Greeks, death is something that can be avoided in some ways. I think the fact that he can visit the underworld in the first place, changes Percy a lot. It allows him to see what the afterlife would be like, and it would also give him an afterlife in the first place (since I don’t think many 12 year olds are wondering what the afterlife is like). It might have made him more reckless with his actions because now there isn’t a fear of “what if I die? What will happen to me?” it’s more of a “Well if I die I know where I’ll go”. Percy’s connection to death and the afterlife shapes how I see his quest because it shows me that to them (demigods [and Percy]), the underworld is just a place. It’s more natural than what it is for us. It’s a place you can visit if you have enough money to get there, and at this point, it’s sort of like a field trip. For us it’s a place we can only imagine and will never visit until it’s our time to be there forever. I guess in a sense, the fact that Percy can visit so many cool places makes me a bit jealous since I would like to be able to visit them and learn more about them. Exploring is fun, and it’s cool to be able to imagine how it would be like if I were backpacking along with them.
Up until this point in the novel, Riordan had euphemized and tip-toed around the topic of death by having slain monsters dissolve into dust, which is a convenient device for a text that appeals to young audiences. However, Percy’s encounter with the Underworld helps Riordan to ease his readers closer to the grim topic of death. It also marks an important moment of maturation for Percy, who makes an extremely difficult decision in leaving his mother behind in favor of himself and his friends. At first, this choice may seem to coincide with Percy’s ‘self-focused’ attributes, but I think it instead displays some selfishness, as Percy places the burden upon himself to do what is necessary to resurrect his mother. While this choice is made easier by the ambiguity surrounding the finality of death in this novel, the moment still sees Percy grow into his own as a leader and as a hero.
*selflessness, not selfishness
I’m really interested in this idea of monsters turning to dust, which as you point out, is a convenient way to hint at death but not approach it directly. I’m sure part of this is for the clarity of the plot, which, ironically, needs to find a realistic/believable excuse for these Greek monsters to still exist. However, I think it also points to a larger theme in the novel that is especially evident in the Underworld scenes: the dependence of some of the most important events on modern commercialism and consumption. I think this interconnection of the mythological and the material is one facet of the westward movement of the Greek Gods that Riordan emphasizes, but I think it’s also worth noting that, as we discussed in class, the crisis of death, for the Greeks, is a “crisis of memory,” and that memory is intrinsically tied to the material. So it’s fascinating to see the Underworld described in businesslike terms by Hades himself, who complains of its overcrowding and the chore of making “subdivisions” like a grumpy landlord, a choice that renders even the realm of the dead strangely human and alive because it bears the memory of the living world. Here, the bluntness of death is softened by the underworld’s connection to the modern world.
As many of my family members and classmates have pointed out, Percy’s drive to save his mother from the underworld led him to a much more selfless, albeit reckless path. However I think he already displayed these properties even before he evades mortals, evades monsters and delves into Hades. In the very beginning of the book he puts himself in front of Grover to fight off the bullies, and later his reckless disregard for his wellbeing in further provoking Clarissa and the children of Ares shows the seeds of his heroism were already present. The quest to save his mother and return the lightning bolt merely add fatal repercussions and enhance the stakes. That being said the quest still develops him into a more mature heroic archetype with a deeper understanding of the world in which he now presides.
Children of Nobody (Family D): Post your comments here!
When Percy first enters the underworld and sees the dead people waiting in line to go to Eternal Damnation or Elysium he quickly knows that he wants to join the heroes going to Elysium. To me this is a central moment because it is the first time he wants to be a hero instead of just going on the quest to find his mother. Then later when Percy chooses to save his friends instead of his mother it shows us just how much he has embraced this narrative of being a hero and acting selfless.
I agree that this moment is rally pivotal and I think it also really lays the foundation for who Percy is going to be in the future books. I think it could be considered almost his “coming of age” moment where he has to solidify his beliefs and principals.
I agree! I think that when Percy decides to save his friends rather than his mother, readers see how he has matured and embraced his role as a hero. He is willing to prolong his reunion with his mother in order to ensure the safety of his new friends and vows to return to the underworld to save his mother, which would put him in more danger. This shows how Percy had become selfless.
Death plays a large part in Percy’s story from the beginning. Percy finds himself on a quest to stop a potential war of the gods, and he must stop anything in his path to complete his goal, no matter if he must use murder to achieve this. He sees death early in the story, whether killing a Fury or Minotaur or seeing his mom disappear in a blinding light. I think death’s effect on Percy and losing his mom (one of the only parental figures in his life) leads him to rely on his friends more than ever. His loyalty, empathy, and compassion that he develops for his friends and family are all characteristics of a modern-day hero (even though he uses violence and questionable morals to achieve his actions).
Does anyone think that Percy using the three pearls to save himself and his friends, instead of his mother, makes him less of a hero? Many may not see this as Heroic, but I believe that Percy made an extremely tough decision to save the world by leaving his mother behind.
I definitely agree with what you are saying. I think that Percy’s experiences with death and near-death experiences explain his actions in the story. I also believe that in a way, Percy believes that his is better than death and believes in his capabilities – whether they be violent or maybe even non-heroic in some ways – to help him to elude death. I think that this lack of fear of death adds to the characteristics that make Percy a hero.
I think that in his own mind, Percy may not see himself as a hero because his one personal goal was one he could not achieve. However, in the grand scheme of things, this is an example of Percy growing up and realizing that no choice will be easy. In a heroic way, he knows that sacrificing more lives is a choice he can simply not afford to make. This choice also drives him further, pursuing more work beyond his original goal to try and save as many lives as he can, protecting his friends and confronting forces far more powerful than himself. He is a hero who wants to protect those who have been by his side, but in this way I feel that he does not fear death or even try very hard to avoid it, as I think the only reason he used the pearl on himself and not his mother was because he knew it would only cause more suffering for others
I agree with the sentiment that Percy probably doesn’t see himself as a hero because of his ultimate failing to reunite with his mother, but on the other hand Percy is still young and definitely flawed and seems unable to fully realize that although it was not a total win, he still was able to save his friends. Percy’s somewhat negative self-image going into the story also influenced his journey to becoming more heroic and overcoming his fear of death and many of the obstacles in his path. Percy also develops an attitude towards death through all of his killing that appears somewhat loose and at ease, though when confronted with how to use the pearls he is forced to make the decision to preserve life rather than attaining his own personal goal.
I think that you raise a really great question! Personally, I believe that using the three pearls to save his friends rather than his mother makes him seem more heroic, especially in the eyes of the reader. I think that this act helped portray him more as a modern hero who is selfless and cares about his friends and others rather than focusing on his own personal desires (saving his mother).
I agree with what you’re saying. Percy losing something of such significance to him at a young age has a huge impact on him, and sets his goals from there on forward. Yet, when presented with the choice of either saving his mother or his friends and saving the war, he chooses the latter. I think this does in fact make him more of a hero, because as seen throughout the text, saving his mother had been a long time goal in which, in the moment, he changed his mind. His mother sacrificed herself for him, and I think he realized that this was something she would’ve wanted him to do. This shows he cares about the people, rather than just his own selfish desires. Even though saving his mother would’ve still been heroic, I believe this makes him more of a “modern” hero.
I agree with what everyone has said here. I do think that losing his mother, who was the most important person in his life, definitely altered Percy’s perception of death. Ultimately, I think having to consistently kill and defend off monsters throughout his quest also contributes to the lack of fear he has when it comes to death. In using the 3 pearls on himself and his friends, it was not so much the death he was worried about, but rather the idea of saving others that he cares about so deeply. Percy’s acts selfless here, knowing that he can no longer use the pearls to save his mother immediately, but can save his friends first instead. This is because Percy values friendship and human connection so much, and the trust he has built with them and the relationship he has had with death makes it so that he does not want to lose anyone else. Putting their lives before Percy’s goal of saving his mother is a heroic act.
I think that Percy’s experience with death has a lack of permanence and this makes him more willing to take risks and appear more selfless and heroic. For example, in the Underworld, he chose to save his friends and stop the war rather than save his mom. This act appears to be selfless because he wants to save his mom more than anything, but he chooses the interests of others, but his experience with death and knowing that there is an underworld and it’s possible to escape and monsters he has killed have come back to life makes death less meaningful. So although it is selfless for him to not save his mom at that moment, it is less heroic considering he knows that the circumstances are not permanent.
I definitely agree with your argument that the temporary nature of death does affect Percy greatly. However, I think that while the impermanence of death does help him in fighting and killing the various monsters he encounters, I don’t know if I’d say Percy sees his own death as similarly insignificant. When he saw those many famous heroes living in Elysium, he knew that he wanted to join them. I think he sees his own death as the end of a journey that can prove that he lived his life correctly and with heroism (should he end up in Elysium). If anything, I would say his experience in the Underworld helped show Percy that death can be a reward for heroes and encourages him to continue on that path.
I think Percy’s experience going through the Fields of Asphodel was the moment where he grew as a character and where his values and motivation changed. Going through death in the underworld is significant because Percy sympathizes with those stuck down there. “The dead aren’t scary. They’re just sad (Chapter 19 Page 145)”. Perhaps part of the reason he can sympathize with the dead is because he finally found his group of friends and he finally feels like he belongs somewhere. In other words, he went through emotional growth throughout his quest. The fear of his mother’s death is Percy’s initial motivation and it is also to prove himself to Poseidon, but his motivation later becomes the fear of the death and destruction that will ensue on the entire world should he fail on his quest.
I think that Percy’s experience in the Underworld, especially seeing the Fields of Asphodel, makes him more conscious that death is a true reality. Prior to this moment, he dealt with monsters who simply turned into dust and reappeared later, which implied that death was more a transient state than a conclusion. His change in perspective is highlighted later when he considers killing his stepfather Gabe with Medusa’s head. He makes a separation between himself as a modern hero and the past Greek heroes who were violent and came to tragic ends.
I really like your point and I agree that Percy’s journey to the underworld forces him to see death from a new perspective. He quite literally stares into the face of death (the ghouls and Hades himself), and he is able to see the permanence of it. I think the fact that Percy sees death for what it really is makes him a hero. Knowing that he is supposed to die because he is a hero but still choosing to fight is what makes him heroic.
I also think that the author intends to present Percy’s hesitation about killing Gabe as a consequence of realizing that the underworld actually exists and pitying the dead. However, I’m confused by how is the existence of the underworld “less merciful” than the fact that there’s nothing after death. I personally think that “Gabe dies and retains some of his conscious” is more comforting (humanitarian even?) to Percy rather than “Gabe dies and everything that is him is erased”, and this might even be a more convincing argument that Percy should just kill Gabe. But I can see how this would become too philosophical, as we could argue 1) if the eternal wandering is better than the absolute nothing for a human 2) if Percy during that hesitation, is actually worrying about how killing a human being will affect his place in the underworld when he is eventually sentenced 3) if Percy realizes that only the Gods can sentence humans’ lives, but what is the difference for Percy between sentencing a human’s life and other mythological creatures’ lives.
I don’t have a definite answer yet, nor do I think there exists one, but nonetheless, how the belief in the underworld/life after death affects a human being is very interesting to dive into.
Percy Jackson’s quest in the Underworld showed him the dangers that accompanied the life of a hero. Despite the harsh conditions of the Underworld, and the possibility of losing all that he cared about, his actions didn’t seem to be guided by the fear of death. He knew great sacrifices were a part of the hero’s journey. I also agree with what my peers noted. His experiences with death played a role in his actions throughout the rest of the book, as they provided the necessary wisdom to make the right decisions.
I agree with you! All before entering the underworld and seeing the Fields of Asphodel, he didn’t-think about death so much, slaying monsters here and there like the minotaur, just because they turned into dust and came back later, made him not think about death killing things. But once he enters the underworld his perspective of death changes as he becomes of cautious of his actions. Not slaying here and there knowing what goes on in the underworld.
Percy matured as a character as he faced Hades. He had grown close to Grover and Annabeth throughout their entire journey, and felt responsible for them as their leader. The underworld was a wakeup call for Percy in the sense that he finally understood the potential consequences of their quest and battles. It is no wonder he struggles to be responsible for deciding their fates, along with his mother’s after witnessing the misery: “I felt like my heart was being ripped in two. They had both been with me through so much… I spent thousands of miles worried that I would be betrayed by a friend, but these friends would never do that. They had done nothing but save me over and over, and now they wanted to sacrifice their lives for my mom(ch. 19).” He eventually decides to give in to the oracle’s prophecy in hopes of a positive outcome should his mission succeed, opting to save his friends lives’.
**witnessing the misery of the underworld
This is Percy’s first honest encounter with death. Up to this point the closest he’s gotten is seeing villains disintegrate into dust. As quite literally a child, coming face-to-face with death in this way seems to be impactful. I think in part this impacted his decision to not kill Smelly Gabe himself. Seeing Hades and the eternity that is death provided him some perspective.
Children of Chaos (Family E): Post your comments here!
“I couldn’t help looking for familiar faces among the spirits of Asphodel, but the dead are hard to look at. Their faces shimmer. They all look slightly angry or confused. They will come up to you and speak, but their voices sound like chatter, like bats twittering. Once they realize you can’t understand them, they frown and move away.
The dead aren’t scary. They’re just sad.” – chapter 19
Percy’s perception of the dead evolves the longer he stays in the underworld. At first he is scared and disturbed by the sight, but soon he pities the dead and their meager existence. Another realization is that reaching The Isles of the Blest is far harder than he realizes. This acceptance of fate closely mirrors how many people feel in their actual lives. As children we all believe we will become rich as it seems like a linear path and very doable, but with age people realize how daunting and taxing of a goal it is and opt for a simpler life (kind of like just accepting Asphodel in death).
I definitely agree with this. The way that Riordan set up the concept of the Underworld (with the Easy-Death Lane and the judgements from Shakespeare etc.) is really interesting, it feels like he was almost trying to ease the fears of his middle-grade readers by making death something easier to conceptualize. While it definitely still is a scary scene, the ways he breaks it down makes it feel more manageable and understandable for the reader, if not for Percy, because of its humor.
Absolutely agree with both of these points; another way that Riordan makes the concept of death more palatable for middle school readers (and definitely more palatable for Percy as well) is the reveal that Sally Jackson isn’t actually dead for good, and that Hades has restored her to life simply as payment for returning the Helm of Darkness with no strings attached. In the same vein, I was struck by Poseidon’s acknowledgement that “the Lord of Death always pays his debts”, since it seemed to me Death tends to be a cruel unforgiving reality in most of the hero narratives I’ve encountered (here more specifically I was comparing this to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Orpheus is given the opportunity to cheat death and allow Eurydice to return to life if only Orpheus never glances back to check if Eurydice is following him, but is foiled by doubt at the last possible moment).
I completely agree with all the points made. By Percy not being too afraid of death (he still is a bit afraid, as he does not want to die quite yet), Riordan is making death seem less scary for the children reading these books. Since this is a middle-grade novel, it makes sense that the only beings that actually die are the ‘villains’, like the monsters and Smelly Gabe, but even then it is mentioned that the monsters don’t stay dead. As for Gabe, he technically doesn’t die, he is just turned into stone. For Percy, he is extremely willing to risk his lives for people he cares about. In later books it is mentioned that Percy’s fatal flaw is extreme loyalty, and that is noticeable in this book.
Like Avery, I had also thought about the story of Opheus and Eurydice, and how death/Hades isn’t always cruel, but just a part of life.
I definitely agree that Percy is willing to risk his life for the people he cares about. It is interesting to note how his values shift during his adventure to the Underworld. Throughout the beginning of the book, Percy’s deep relationship with his mother is emphasized while his friendships are simultaneously growing. Ultimately his mom sacrifices herself to the Minotaur in order to save Percy. This inevitable affects Percy’s perception of death and is an underlying motive for his trip to the Underworld. This loss strengthens his relationship with his friends and shifts his values from his deceased mom to his friends. Which is why he decides to use the three pearls to save them instead of his mother. Is this choice by Riordan meant to further demonstrate Percy as a hero or challenge this notion? I believe an argument can be made from both sides.
I believe it is important to discuss the scene early in this book where Percy and his mother are chased and confronted by the Minotaur. Prior to this point in the passage Percy had experienced a few close calls with death and even overheard his mentor and best friend discussing the fact that his life is likely at risk. Prior to the Minotaur scene, Percy definitely appeared afraid of the idea of dying but when his mother is taken by the Minotaur, Percy’s mentally completely changes. In a moments notice Percy goes from running from his imminent death at the hands of the Minotaur to facing it head on in a strategic and confident manner. Percy became much more willing to put his life on the risk in an attempt to save someone he loves and is an early example of Percy growing as a character becoming more willing to risk his life.
I totally agree with all of the points that have been made so far. Another way that Riordan strays from traditional Greek myth is that when monsters “die”, they are not actually dead for good, but rather turned to dust and reform. This not only makes the book more palatable for the audience he is trying to reach, but it also makes it easier for young heroes in his series, in particular Percy who is thrown into the thick of it all, to kill these monsters, who might be gone for lifetimes, but are truly never dead. This seems to differ from other stories such as that of Theseus and the original Perseus, where the carnage and death is just part of their hero life style, and there is no doubt that these monsters are dead and will never return.
When Percy is first told about the quest, his main motivation is to go to the Underworld to find his ‘dead’ mom. He thinks that hiding this motivation from Chiron and Glover is important. His experience of his mom’s perceived death shapes his willingness to risk his own life, and also his willingness to use violence against others. However Riordan uses Percy’s mom’s death to present death as impermanent, which as others have said eases fears of death for his young readers.
I think the concept of Percy hiding his true motives is interesting because it is later revealed that almost everyone knows why he really went on the quest. Despite his best efforts, he is not able to succeed in hiding this. Then, despite his best efforts, he is not able to save his mother in the Underworld. Riordan uses both of these scenes to display the fact that heroes do not always succeed, despite their good intentions. Percy cements himself as a hero here as he chooses to keep fighting despite his failures.
I think Percy’s experience with death causes him to become a more compassionate and mature individual. We can see this after he returns home and even though his stepfather Gabe has horrible qualities, Percy decides that it is unfair for him to send him to the underworld. I think seeing what really happens after death – all of the souls lost in the Fields of Asphodel – caused Percy to grow and begin to only resort to violence when absolutely necessary.
“I remembered the Underworld. I thought about Gabe’s spirit drifting forever in the Fields of Asphodel, or condemned to some hideous torture behind the barbed wire of the Fields of Punishment—an eternal poker game, sitting up to his waist in boiling oil listening to opera music. Did I have the right to send someone there? Even Gabe?
A month ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Now…”
– chapter 21
I definitely agree that Percy’s trip to the underworld has changed him. He views death in a new light and considers not only whether the person deserves death but also wonders what gives him the right to make that choice. I agree with you that Percy’s decision to leave Smelly Gabe’s fate up to his mom was a reflection of his newfound conception of death. Unlike all the other instances of violence in the book, where Percy ‘kills’ monsters but knows that they can reincarnate, Gabe’s death is a permanent end. I think it’s really interesting to think about how the books draw the line there, as Percy’s choices morally differentiate between real, permanent death and the mythical monsters’ impermanent deaths.
I think your point about Percy’s developing understanding of death and its permanence or lack thereof for certain beings is super interesting. From the beginning, Percy’s motivation was to save his mother from her own permanent death — his actions were centered more around preventing the loss of his mother than his own survival or glory, something that separates him from more traditional Greek heroes. But even before he realized that the death of the monsters he fought was temporary, he had no problem going around slaying monsters that get in the way of his quest. I completely agree, however, that after his trip to the underworld, witnessing the products of death, he began to consider the implications of death more deeply. He doesn’t make the decision to lithify Gabe, despite getting the chance to, and while we don’t see many more interactions where Percy could have sent a person or monster to their death towards the end of the book, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continued to look for non-lethal solutions to his obstacles in the future when at all possible.
I agree with everything that has been said so far. I am particularly interested in the the Riordan seems to make the choice in this moment to stray from the traditional greek hero and perhaps fulfill the more traditional view of a hero who must sacrifice something and put the needs of others above his own. I would love to know more if this was an explicit choice and perhaps was meant to convey a message to his readers which are presumably at a young impressionable age. Perhaps Riordan wants his reader to look up to Percy as a measure of true virtue. I also love the way that this novel deals with death in that it makes it more palatable. It can be very difficult to deal with these issues especially at a young age but one way of know of combatting this is by demonstrating that death is not the end but simply a necessary stop along a long journey. Different cultures have their own interpretations of this but many all agree that death is not the end.
I definitely agree that Percy’s perspectiveon death seems to change after his trip to the Underworld. I feel like leading up to Percy’s time in the Underworld, his experience with death (especially his experience with *causing* death) made him progressively more and more comfortable with and willing to use violence. And I think to help this happen while making death more palatable for his young readers, Riordan makes the deaths increasingly less and less…visible, for lack of a better word. In the beginning of the story, we see Percy is unnerved by his reflexive murder of his teacher, Mrs. Dodds, but he does not really get to see any consequences from this death — he has nightmares of their altercation but we see that no one grieves the woman, as everyone has been influenced by the Mist to forget her existence, and he is not left with a body to deal with, as she bursts into dust with a shriek. This is the only death that he really dwells on, qnd in the case of Mrs. Dodds he mostly dwells on in because he is curious about why no one else remembers her. With his next kill, the Minotaur, Percy is (rightfully and validly) full of rage “like high octane fuel” and grief for his mom as he gets his revenge, tearing off a horn and stabbing the monster to death with its own body part. Peecy appears to be grimly satisfied with this kill, and he keeps the broken horn as a spoil of war. In his next kill, Medusa’s death is not really “seen” by Percy or the reader, as we only hear the sound of her head hitting the floor and the sound of her body disintegrating. He doesn’t dwell at all on this death, bringing her head with him as a spoil and later contemplating using it to kill his stepfather. After that, we come to the final monster that Percy kills before his underworld trip – c
Crusty. Crusty’s death I think is probably the most brutal kill of Percy’s. Unlike the others, Crusty pleads with Percy prior to being killed, trying to strike a deal with the demigod. But Percy feels no mercy and “[has] no qualms about what [he] was about to do.” (pg 282, chapter 17). Yet while this is Percy’s coldest kill, this is also the least “visible” death in that there is no description of the death. No description of bursting to dust or body parts falling off, just “[Percy] swung the sword. Crusty stopped making offers” (page 282, chapter 17).
After Percy’s trip to the underworld, we see a divergence from his past behavior as Percy gains new perspective on and new appreciation of death and life. When he later interacts with Smelly Gabe once again, Percy actually stops and contemplates his role in causing death and struggles with the ethics of choosing to send Gabe to join the dead that he saw in the Underworld. Diverging from his previous pattern of killing those who are causing his friends/family distress, Percy choses to take the high road and leave the choice to his Mother.
“Stop it, both of you! I felt like my heart was being ripped in two. They had both been with me through so much … They had done nothing but save me, over and over, and now they wanted to sacrifice their lives for my mom.” – Chapter 19
In Percy’s journey to the Underworld, he’s faced with a difficult decision: he must choose who gets a pearl and who will get left behind. Percy has the chance to reunite with his mother, but instead he gives the pearls to Grover and Annabeth. His experience in the Underworld tests his loyalty, his trust in is friends, and his willingness to sacrifice for others. Percy’s decision shows that he recognizes and values Grover and Annabeth as true friends who have sacrificed themselves for him, he could not leave them behind. Not only this, but Percy believes in his ability to bring his mother back another way. He goes from being unsure of who he is, to being someone who trusts his intuition and is secure in his identity. He does not let the fear of his mother’s death get in the way of saving his friends.
This part of the story helped further shape my understanding of Percy. As Mari mentioned, this experience tested Percy’s loyalty and tested him. The quote “‘I am sorry,’ I told her. ‘I’ll be back. I’ll find a way.'” (Riordan pg. 317, chapter 19) particularly stood out to me by demonstrating how Percy has changed and accepted his new identity and role as a half-blood. He believes in himself that he will save his mother, even if he is not sure of how at that moment. Percy’s experience in the Underworld and with death helped give him perspective and understanding of the realities of this new world he is a part of. Additionally, he showed a lot of growth by leaving his mother to save his friends and continue the quest.
Percy’s journey to the underworld definitely made him more mature. Considering his age, Percy appears very selfless here. Where he could’ve chosen to save his mother instantly, he chooses to save his friends whom he has only known for a relatively short amount of time. After seeing the dead firsthand, he does not wish to sentence Grover or Annabeth to that fate for his own selfish desire. Instead, he brings them out of the Underworld and searches for another way to save his mother. That selflessness, in my eyes, makes Percy a hero.
P. 301 Ch. 19 “They will come up to you and speak, but their voices sound like chatter, like bats twittering. Once they realize you can’t understand them, they frown and move away. The dead aren’t scary. They’re just sad.”
Through Percy’s trip to the underworld, I think he slowly starts to realize that he wants his life to mean something. Percy sees the billions of people who did nothing in their lives—many times greater than those who achieved the Isles of the Blest—which drives his desire to be a hero. It is from this scene we can see what sets him apart from the faceless, chattering crowd. Additionally, he understands what it means to kill—where souls go after their death—injecting some hesitancy into his actions. In later books, this idea is expanded upon when Nico’s sister Bianca is killed and sent to the fields of Asphodel, which is part of what drives Nico’s hatred toward Percy.
Throughout much of the story, Percy’s main motivation is to bring his mother back from “death.” I feel that with this motivation, he is less afraid of death, especially the closer he gets to it, but the fear of not being able to prevent his mom’s ultimate death is still very much alive within him. When he gets to the underworld and makes the ultimate sacrifice and leaves his mom in the underworld, I believe that this is the true moment where his fear of death is truly obliterated. He understands that what he must do (restore peace and get Hades back his helmet) is more important for the greater good. In the end, he does get his mom back, but I view this reunion as a result of his acceptance of death as a thing that is unavoidable and that it is more important/worthwhile to focus on what is happening in the moment than bringing something back that is presumably gone.
I agree with Olivia that Percy’s journey to the underworld helps him accept the inevitability of and overcome his fear of death, especially in the way in which he interacts with Hades. Before this Percy interacts with other gods, but he doesn’t seem to understand how powerful they really are. Hades is the first god that actually seems godly to Percy and the first one that he treats with respect. I think that this indicates that Percy understands the inevitability of death and that he has become more mature from his trip to the underworld. Still, Percy stands up to Hades when the god threatens him. Although Percy understands has a respect for death, he does not let a fear of it overpower him.
Like many of my classmates, I didn’t think it was heroic for Percy to choose his friend over his mother. On the contrary, I think his choice reflects that he is a conservative person. In the story, Percy isn’t facing a choice between saving his friend or his mother, but between killing and saving. The moment he chose to save his mother, his friend would die because of him. But his choice of friends does not actually affect his mother (because she was already dead). This reminds me to the Trolley problem: There are five people tied to one train track, I have the opportunity to change direction to another track to save five people’s lives, but there is still one person tied to the other track. In this situation, what should I do? There is a theory about this problem: choose not to change the track. Because in choosing to switch tracks I indirectly killed the people on the second track. If I did not change the track, the five people who died did not die because of my extra action, so my heart would be less burdened. I think the same theory applies to Percy’s selection.