The Heroine in Western Literature: The Archetype and Her Reemergence in Modern Prose

The Heroine in Western Literature: The Archetype and Her Reemergence in Modern Prose

The Heroine in Western Literature: The Archetype and Her Reemergence in Modern Prose

The Heroine in Western Literature: The Archetype and Her Reemergence in Modern Prose

Synopsis

The impulse that prompts humans to envision themselves as heroic is as inherent to women as to men. The idealization of the hero, however, is an outgrowth of the more primary conception of the god. In Western culture the reduction and eventual denial of the feminine divine has affected cultural perception of feminine principles, particularly archetypal and autonomous patterns.This book delves first into the literary strata from which the archetypes have been culled, the stories of the Bible and the myths of the Aegean, to look at how the characterization of the goddess was revised. Employing evidence from psychology, artifacts and pictorial art, the author shapes an outline for a more authentic figure. The obscure and muted goddess-heroine of ancient literature is then given detail by the articulate voices of the archetype as she reemerges in contemporary fiction.

Excerpt

Some years ago while reading Joseph Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces, I was distressed by the discovery that there is no archetypal pattern therein which traces the activities of the heroine in literature. Campbell goes so far in that work as to suggest that Daphne's transformation into a tree to escape rape by the pursuing Apollo is a refusal of the call to heroism. It occurred to me at the time that that would certainly not have been Daphne's assessment of the experience and that subsequent, nonmythic rape victims might well express envy of Daphne's timely metamorphosis, might judge her escape heroic.

How does the conceptualization of heroism function within the individual's imagination? Within the larger cultural vision, mankind's collective imagination? One can so easily imagine the frightened woman envisioning her own escape -- outrunning, metamorphosing, triumphing over her adversary, yet tradition has already decided. It is the god bent on rape, the rational Apollo, who is the hero of the myth, not the woman who escapes.

A child tethered in a car seat survives, unhurt, an automobile accident in which the driver, the child's mother, sustains a serious head wound and unconscious, bleeds into her child's lap for the ten minutes it takes help to arrive. All ends well and what follows is a curious process. The child who was the only conscious witness to the event begins to spin a mythic rendition that grows and alters like an organic substance over time. But one thing is consistent, from its first draft the myth features the child as hero. Transformative of necessity, the three-year-old describes venting rage like the Incredible Hulk, bursting forth from the helplessness of circumstance and avenging the mother's injury by soundly trouncing the driver of the other car. By the time help arrives the child has magically reappeared in the car seat and is ministering to the wounded mother. Each revision increases the child's heroic vision of the self, each helps incorporate the episode which has become in story not a profoundly disturbing confrontation with . . .

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