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The search for self: Everyday heroes and an integral re -visioning of the heroic journey in postmodern literature and popular culture

Leslie Goss Erickson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

This study explores the concept of every man and every woman as hero. Using three models of the heroic journey, it identifies and delineates female and male heroes in a variety of works and genres of postmodern American culture. These are everyday heroes embarking on often small journeys with sometimes insignificant victories or failures, but the rewards can be great. ^ Herein I re-vision Joseph Campbell's thesis as set forth in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), that regardless of manifestation, the heroic journey is one core myth describing venturing human beings as they progress through levels of consciousness to individuation, self-actualization, and enlightenment. Primarily using Campbell's three-stage model of the heroic journey, Separation, Initiation, and Return, I also use two post-Campbell models, Carol S. Pearson's archetypal model: The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By (1986), and Susan A. Lichtman's gender specific model, Life Stages of Woman's Heroic Journey: A Study of the Origins of the Great Goddess Archetype (1991). ^ Examining four American works from a variety of genres, I explore the diversity and, paradoxically, the oneness of the heroic journey during the second half of the twentieth century. The first two chapters examine novels emerging from non-Anglo cultures—Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (1977) from African-American culture and Julia Alvarez's In the Name of Salomé (2000) from Latin American culture. These novels each demand a culturally-specific examination as characters encounter the trials generated from colonialism and the African diaspora in addition to ones stemming from Anglo-American culture. The final two chapters explore one early and one recent version of Anglo-American heroes struggling to evolve while trapped by the promise of the white-collar “American Dream”: Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman (1949) and the film American Beauty (1999). ^ These four works suggest that willing individuals can answer the call to adventure, triumph over the trials set before them, and find autonomy, actualization, and, perhaps, enlightenment. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Erickson, Leslie Goss, "The search for self: Everyday heroes and an integral re -visioning of the heroic journey in postmodern literature and popular culture" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3131541.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3131541

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