Upbringing Makes the Hero
"Heroes are made, not born" is a common and unstated theme in a lot of works. Though a good many heroic origins proudly trot out heroes who have been raised in The Spartan Way and can look Death in the eye-sockets without blinking before leaving their Tibetan monastery home, quite a few grew up Farm Boys who never picked up anything sharper than a hoe, though those can be quite a handful.
In fact, heroes with a down to earth upbringing tend to have a unique advantage over the more Badass and epic ones, they're more centered. While they won't be saints, they'll have a strong enough moral compass to navigate most moral dilemmas, resist The Dark Side, and even refute Hannibal Lectures that more emotionally fragile heroes struggle with. If they gain super powers they won't forget "the little people" and turn into a Smug Super with delusions of grandeur. Though they didn't gain the crime fighting prowess of a lifetime of Charles Atlas training, or the street savvy of an orphan with a Dark and Troubled Past, they also didn't sacrifice basic skills or their social life.
These differences are often contrasted by pairing these characters together as an Action Hero and an Action Survivor in an Action Duo. -- Action!—or pitting them against each other as Technician Versus Performer. The contrast can even be made an integral plot point by pitting the homey hero against a Tyke Bomb Raised by Orcs, and exploring just how much upbringing can damn or redeem. Frequently, this is played with by revealing the hero has Secret Legacy for evil In the Blood. In these cases, it's usually left implicit (or explicitly stated) that without their upbringing they'd have gone evil. The Anti-Anti-Christ in particular usually has this for a background.
Even handed authors will acknowledge that the "classical" hero is more able at their job because of their sacrifices, while the more "normal" one is a hero because that which was not sacrificed is what makes them heroic. More biased tellings can make one or the other out as the better hero, usually slanting towards the meek, though Never Be a Hero does crop up.
One reason why Turn Out Like His Father can often keep the child from being Evil.
Anime and Manga
- Goku from Dragon Ball was supposed to destroy the Earth but was raised by a kind old man turned out to be a hero.
- A little brain damage from landing on his head as an infant didn't hurt.
- Rin from Blue Exorcist was born as the child of Satan himself. While resident Badass Preacher Shiro could've killed the defenseless newborn, he instead took the child in and raised him as a human after sealing his demonic powers into a sword. Rin was a typical problem child: skipping school, very easy to anger and if angered prone to excessive beatdowns (as seen when he put several fellow kindergarteners into hospital for calling him a monster). Still, Shiro's upbringing turned Rin into a slightly feral-looking but otherwise normal and easy-going teenager. When Shiro was killed by Satan who tried to reclaim his son, however... Rin voluntarily unlocked his demonic form by unsheathing the sword that locked it away then became an Exorcist to, in his own words, KICK SATAN'S ASS.
- Hellboy was raised as a son by Professor Bruttenholm and fed pancakes, and thus was the Apocalypse Maiden turned to the side of humanity. The poster boy for Anti-Anti-Christ.
- Uncle Ben is a reason Spider-Man's motto is "With Great Power comes great responsibility".
- Deconstructed with Mark Milton aka Hyperion in Supreme Power is basically a Superman Expy... who was raised by military officers ordered to pretend they were a Happily Married couple. He told his "father" that the only reason he didn't simply fly away and do whatever he wanted was because his "parents" loved him, and they didn't want him to. Then they were retired in a faked fishing accident. He's not doing so good since.
- Superman is a classic example. Whenever tempted to use his powers for either personal gain, or revenge, he's usually shown as remembering the values he was taught by the Kents.
- In Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, Superman draws a distinction between "fighting" (i.e. against enemies) and "fighting for something" (meaning the Earth, and the kind people on it) while in a cornfield in Smallville.
- More than one Elseworlds story has been devoted to exploring what Superman would be like if he hadn't been raised in Kansas. Tellingly, Red Son, in which he is raised in Russia, has him becoming a totalitarian dictator, while JLA: The Nail, where he is raised by Amish, has him develop a similar personality to the Big Blue Boy Scout we all know and love. And Superman: True Brit, which more or less led to Superman becoming a ditzier version of Lord Bravery from Freakazoid!.
- Other heroes follow in a similar vein. Aquaman, for example, can (sometimes) attribute his heroic nature to being raised by down-to-Earth lighthouse-keeper Tom Curry, as opposed to the Royal Courts of Atlantis.
- Jaime Reyes, the third Blue Beetle, has his parents supporting and advising him on his (admittedly unexpected) superhero career.
- Virgil Hawkings, aka Static. Despite being raised around gang violence, Virgil was actually raised in a stable home by both of his parents. This plays a role into why Static is one of the few non-Anti Heroes in Milestone's line.
- Eddie Bloomberg/Kid Devil/Red Devil is a mixed bag. He has issues with his parents' neglect, but his Aunt Marla raised him well until her death and his hero Blue Devil served as a fairly good role model for a time. While Eddie often makes bad choices due to his lack of guidance, he does try to be a good hero.
- Carrot Ironfounderson of the Ankh-Morpork Watch is like this, except instead of being raised on a farm he was raised in a mine, by dwarfs. The results are largely the same, however.
- Moses in The Bible is trained by both his biological mother and by the Egyptians, and later spent forty years as a shepherd in the Wilderness before he got The Call from God to be a Messianic Archetype when he was eighty years old.
- David spent his childhood working as a Shepherd for his father. Similarly to Moses, David also got The Call from God.
- Invoked in The Belgariad with respect to The Hero, Garion. Being raised as a Farm Boy and kept in ignorance of his heritage was Polgara's ploy to ensure that the future heir to the throne of Riva and ultimate savior of the world would have a solid head on his shoulders when he got there. It's even more important as the Orb of Aldur would not respond to his touch if he weren't "without evil in the fastness of his soul".
- Invoked in Harry Potter. Dumbledore wanted Harry to be raised by his Muggle aunt and uncle so that he wouldn't buy into his own publicity and become an entitled Smug Snake. This wound up backfiring in a lot of ways, because the Dursleys were horribly abusive towards Harry because they hated magic, but it also wound up working better than Dumbledore could've hoped: Harry's mistreatment because of his "difference" made him one of the most empathetic characters in the series when it came to the plights of people in trouble or individuals, groups or races being mistreated, and therefore one of the first to dive head-long into danger to help others.
- In the Sword of Truth series, this is explicitly Zedd's reason for bringing up Richard, the Seeker, in the Westlands, where magic and high society are unknown.
- Lampshaded in Kyle XY in Season 2, when Kyle defends the actions of his Distaff Counterpart Jessi by pointing out that, had he not been found by the Trager family, he could have easily ended up the same way.
- Invoked in Camelot. As part of his Batman Gambit to create the perfect king, Merlin gave baby Arthur to an ordinary rural family so that he'd be raised with a stronger moral compass and an appreciation of the plight of the common folk.
- A definite source of constant debate among the Mass Effect fandom, where you can choose the background of the Player Character. One involves a sixteen year old escaping an EXTREMELY horrific massacre of his/her hometown, and another involves growing up in the overpopulated, gang-ridden slums of an Earth city. The third involves being raised aboard ships and space stations (with at least one surviving parent). Of course, it's the other major background choice and the choices of the player throughout the games that really explains what kind of person the Player Character truly is.
- The upbringing does have a small effect on gameplay. Depending on the background you choose, you get a slight bonus to paragon and renegade points. Being Earthborn adds a renegade bonus, and being a Spacer does the same thing for paragons. Being a colonist results in a smaller bonus to both sides of the meter.
- Played with in Blaze Union. Our hero Gulcasa grew up in the ghetto, oppressed by the rich and those who feared and despised his demon blood, and was abandoned by his mother and abused by his father. By some miracle, he managed to come out of all this as an unbelievably kind and empathetic person. "Some miracle" also goes by Siskier and Jenon, the two childhood friends who essentially raised Gulcasa and restored his faith in and ability to trust other people. It's strongly implied that without Gulcasa's traumatic childhood, he wouldn't have developed his ideals and sense of justice—but also that without Siskier and Jenon, he wouldn't have the gentle nature and morals that enable him to become a great and beloved leader, and wouldn't have been able to withstand the Trauma Conga Line he gets put through towards the end of Blaze Union and throughout Yggdra Union.
- In Pokémon Black and White, N was raised by Pokemon his whole life, which influenced him to fight against Pokemon battling and capturing.
- The ancient Romans believed that the best way to guarantee the young became great leaders was to instil them with a good moral compass (by the standards of the time) and give them a good education: their mothers generally took this responsibility, reflecting the role Cornelia had in raising Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, two of the most celebrated plebian consuls.
- The ancient Chinese were also big believers of this Trope. And not just for heroes, but in making good citizens and decent human beings, upbringing and education was key. Confucious was actually the product of this, as his mother supposedly moved three times just to ensure the right environment for her son. It paid off.