The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood: Initiation and Rape in Literature

The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood: Initiation and Rape in Literature

The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood: Initiation and Rape in Literature

The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood: Initiation and Rape in Literature

Synopsis

Kathleen Wall traces the myth through fifteen works of English, American, and Canadian literature, providing a fresh, feminist reading of these narratives. Among the works analysed are selections by Margaret Atwood, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Hardy, and George Elliot. The resulting text reveals many facets of the realities of women's experience from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. And ultimately, Wall shows rape to be an expression of dominance rather than lust, giving increased support to the definition suggested by feminists. Wall demonstrates that the Callisto myth is a powerful archetype which illustrates both the victimization of women and their search for independence and autonomy, an archetype that should not be ignored by modern women.

Excerpt

Defining the mythic patterns which accurately reflect the forms and realities of woman's experience is a major concern of feminist literary criticism. Mythic analyses of literature by and about women have revealed the inadequacies of the paradigms describing the masculine experience that have been posited by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Northrop Frye. The social restrictions traditionally placed upon women, and hence upon the heroine, result in a radical difference between the nature of her existence and that of her male counterpart, the hero. From this straightforward observation, it is but a very simple step to conclude that the myths which describe the herds experiences could not function accurately when it comes to describing those of the heroine. Annis Pratt, in The New Feminist Criticism, observes: "It is startling to realize that volumes have been written about the development of the male psyche as if it, in itself, defined the human soul. If there is a 'myth of the hero' there must also be a 'myth of the heroine,' a female as well as a male bildungsroman, parallel, perhaps, but by no means identical." Carol Christ similarly observes that "the quests of heroes, from Gilgamesh and Odysseus, Apuleuis and Augustine, to Stephen Daedalus and Carlos Castaneda, have been recorded throughout history. Joseph Campbell in his classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, charted the journey of the hero in many cultures. Typically the hero leaves home, defines himself through tests and trials, and returns with a clearer understanding of himself and his place in the world. But if the hero has a thousand faces, the heroine has scarcely a dozen."

Given this situation, the literary critic must undertake her or his own quest to discover the patterns which define the experiences of the heroine. Like many undertakings by feminist literary critics, my own quest began in the wilderness, with a curiosity about the kinds of initiations protagonists undergo in the forest. Originally, I intended to study twentieth- century narratives that evinced similarities to the myths of Orpheus . . .

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