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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


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.