This question was asked at www.in.answers.yahoo.com three years back. Some learned readers expressed their views. It was finally treated as resolved, with no further scope to add an opinion. Hence, I am writing my view here.
One generally held view is that tulsidas depicted Shri rAma in rAm carit mAnas as supreme God himself. vAlmiki tried to present rAma as an ideal human being, worthy of emulation by every one of us.
tulsidas made modifications to vAlmiki rAmAyan story, to make it appear more sacred. This trait/tendency of making modifications to base story is common among Indian translations and re-adoptions, such as kamban rAmAyana in TAmil, molla rAmAyaNa or bhAskara rAmAyaNa in telugu, etc.
By reading translated and modified texts, devotees become greater devotees and when devotion reaches it zenith, they may attain unity with rAma.
From a truth-seeker/analyst's point of view, reading translations, can make us deviate from the base story. For this reason only, I have, as far as possible, confined this blog only to vAlmIki rAmAyaN.
Even vAlmiki rAmAyan's base story contains COUNTLESS insertions, deletions, and modifications, which may be the work of priests and temple preachers. vAlmiki rAmAyan was carried over from generation to generation, through oral traditions and palm-leaf inscriptions. Hence, during transmission stage, several additions, deletions and modifications might have taken place.
Converting vanacarAs (forest-dwellers) to vAnaras (monkeys), by adding tails, including to hanumAn. hanumAn was, according to VR, a great scholar well versed in three vEdAs. How can a great scholar have a tail?
Adding pushpaka aircraft, to a human fantasy of flying in the sky. pushpaka aircraft becomes a dream, because it had not only been made to fly, but also able to accommodate millions of monkeys, which even a 21st Century Boeing Dreamliner or AirBus cannot accomplish.
Adding hyperolic figures of speech (atiSayOktis) as adjectives to the main characters. Example: rAma was called purusha vyAghram (tiger among humans) at several places.
6-48-10. shankhE netrE karau pAdau gulphAv UrU ca mE citau anuvrittA nakhAh snigdhAha samAsh ca angulayO mama.
6-48-11. stanau ca aviralau piinau mama imau magna cUcukau magnA ca utsanginI naabhih paarshva uraskam ca mE citam.
If going to forest on the orders of stepmother and a weak father, a part of intrigues to succession to royal throne, is considered as cause sufficient enough to worship a person, those who lay down their lives for worthier causes, will be entitled to a thousand times more intensive worship. Example: bhagat singh, rAs bihAri bOse, chandrasEkhar AzAd, rAjguru, et al. We have thousands of Indians who suffered endlessly in the prisons of anDamAns Islands. We should be grateful enough to build hundreds of temples for them, not just memorials.
This tendency of making humans Gods, or sons of Gods, or prophets, for relatively less worthier causes exists not only in hindUism, but also in other religions. I am unable to cover them, because they are outside the purview of vAlmiki rAmAyan.
rAmAyaN could have ACTUALLY happened and would have been (is, in fact), a part of our folk history. Folk histories do not lose the character of history, simply because stone inscriptions are not available or palm-leaves/copper-plates are not available. Histories can live over our tongues.
Only need is, we have to ignore SUPERLATIVE ADJECTIVES AND HYPERBOLES added by priests and temple preachers.
About frequent preachings to emulate rAma, lakshmaNa et al.
Very often we find that many average Indians seem to appear have better personalities, than the personalities of rAmAyaN characters. Among millions of Indians, only thousands or hundreds of Indians may venture to ask a wife to keep your mind on any body you want and compel her to enter fire for proving faithfulness. In spite of succeeding in this fire-test, later on, few pregnant wives will be abandoned in forests.
6-115- 22 and 23 BOOK 6 - BOOK OF WAR - YUDDHA KANDA CHAPTER 115 - SARGA 115 VERSES 22 AND 23 - SLOKAS 22 AND 23
tadadya vyaahritam bhadree mayaitat kritabuddhinaa Lakshman`ee vaa tha Bharate kuru buddhim yathaa sukham (22)
Shatrughne vaa tha Sugriivee raakshase vaa Vibhiishan`ee niveshaya manaha Siitee yathaa vaa sukha maatmanaha (23)
Here rAma was asking Sita to bind herself to lakshmaNa, or bharata, or Satrughna, or sugrIva, or vibhIshaNa. Few Indian husbands ask wives to set their minds on somebody else.
Important note: I may have to reedit this, to soothe hurt feelings of my readers.