American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
The Emerging American Hero

"The historic memory goes back through long defiles of doom."--Herman Melville.

"Every historical change creates its mythology." -Bronislaw Malinowski.

Being a modern hero is difficult and perplexing. "It is not only that there is no hiding place for the gods from the searching telescope. There is no such society any more as the gods once supported. The social unit is not a carrier of religious content, but an economic-political organization."1Corrado Alvaro finds The Hero in Crisis, and Ortega y Gasset, a century suffering from the intervention of the mass man into everything. Harrison Smith ascribes the woes of contemporary fiction to the disappearance of the hero, who is really nothing more than a victim. Technology and science are said to have withered up our grass roots, and capitalism our sense of community. "There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved," Gasset claims.2 We are told that once America had a culture without a civilization, and now a civilization without a culture.

Others bewail the fate of mythology. "Myths are construed simply by the hard Occidental mind--they are lies," writes John Crowe Ransom in God Without Thunder. "They are not nearly good enough for the men in our twentieth century generation, brought up in the climatic blessedness of our scientific world." With many words contemporary critics repeat what Nietzsche said in five: "Dead are all the gods."

They are wrong. Mythology cannot be superceded or elimin-

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