Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Prince of Tides as Archetypal Hero Quest

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Prince of Tides as Archetypal Hero Quest

Article excerpt

"In the office of the modern psychoanalyst, the stages of the hero-adventure come to light again in the dreams and hallucinations of the patient. Depth beyond depth of self-ignorance is fathomed, with the analyst in the role of the helper, an initiatory priest. And always ... the adventure develops into a journey of darkness, horror, disgust, and phantasmagoric fears" (Campbell Hero 121). This passage, quoted from mythologist Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, reads like an introduction to Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. After all, the novel is structured around the fantastic Wingo family history that is unraveled in the office of psychoanalyst Susan Lowenstein. The plot focuses on Tom Wingo and his attempts to help heal his suicidal sister Savannah and himself, but it is the third sibling, Luke, whose life fits the pattern of the archetypal hero adventure outlined by Campbell in his studies of world mythology. The narrative center of Conroy's novel may lie largely with Tom, but when Campbell writes of "the deluge hero [who] is a symbol of the germinal vitality of man surviving even the worst tides of catastrophe and sin," the focus turns to Luke Wingo, the Prince of Tides (Hero 37).

Landon C. Burns notes that although Luke is not the protagonist of the novel, he "becomes a hero in an almost mythological sense. That he is a prince in every way become[s] abundantly clear as the novel develops" (115). Others have commented on aspects of the mythological in Conroy's work. Noted author Gall Godwin, in a New York Times review, writes that in The Prince of Tides "everything is bulging with symbol and jacked up to the lofty realm of myth" (14). In his study of The Great Santini, Robert E. Burkholder notes that "the title of the novel emphasizes the important role myths play," an observation equally applicable to The Prince of Tides. David Toolan refers to Luke as a "good-natured Rambo" with "more brawn and pure instinct than brain ... the perfect athlete and martyr-for-a-cause that Conroy's central heroes are not" (130). Toolan is not the first critic who falls prey to the notion that Luke Wingo is lacking in intelligence. In contrast, Burns points to Luke's mental acumen: "Throughout their childhood, Luke is thought of as not very bright and even told so by his parents. Actually, Savannah finds out by snooping through school records that Luke has the highest I.Q. of the three" (116). Burns also notes that "Luke's eloquent speech at the hearing about the Atomic Energy Commission's plans for Colleton shows that, when the occasion demands, this usually taciturn man is capable of the same verbal power that his siblings have" (132).

Pat Conroy has said that Luke Wingo is the one character in this novel that he cannot account for, that he cannot directly correlate with someone in his own life (Malphrus interviews). Perhaps Luke Wingo rose up out of the realm of the archetypal world mythology that lies within each of us, brought to life by the author's having braved the dangers of his own subconscious. Campbell writes that "the unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind-whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves" (Hero 8). In an interview Conroy says that he has "come to trust the unconscious of the writer. That voice is coming from somewhere. That voice is asking for admission for some reason. And that voice is asking for permission to be heard" (Powell 51). From that voice and within the dark Aladdin's caves of The Prince of Tides, there emerges a hero whose life follows the quest outlined in Campbell's work.

Campbell refers to the hero-quest as a "pageant of marvels," and when one considers the events that comprise Luke Wingo's life, they truly do read as a parade of the fantastic, a showcase of the unbelievable (Hero 319). …

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