Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth | The Female Hero | Northorp Frye on Modes | Frye on Romance | Frye on Character
Campbell was an anthropologist. In comparing myths from a wide variety of cultures around the world and from many different historical epochs, he began to see a pattern: numerous cultures told stories about heroes, stories whose underlying plot -- despite great differences in surface detail --were very similar. He called this recurring plot structure the "monomyth": the single story that all humans share.2. The Female Hero
The two pages you have from Campbell's famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, outline the basic stages in the myth of the hero's journey. As you read the two pages, follow along with the accompanying chart. After you have thought through the basic stages in the quest, try seeing if you can recognize the shape of the monomyth behind various stories you are familiar with. The story of Christ's birth, life, death, and rebirth in the Bible is our most central Western version of the monomyth, which structures much literature and film. Pick a book or a movie that you know well and see if its plot follows the structure of the monomyth. Generally speaking, the closer the work is to fantasy -- the less realistic it is -- the more clearly you will see the underlying mythic structure. In class we will work with the Star Wars trilogy as a major example, but it also works well with Tolkien.
When the hero of a story is a woman, her quest is somewhat different from the male pattern. (A female hero is quite different from a heroine: a heroine usually exists as the object of a male quest; the female hero has her own journey.) The overall movement is the same, but the kinds of challenges, confrontations, goals, and ends may differ. Female heroes, more frequently than male, fight against what society expects of them. The reading selection from Pearson and Pope sets out some of these differences. The excerpt at the end gives new names to the stages of the female quest and illustrates the model with an analysis of The Wizard of Oz. Here's my chart comparing Dorothy with Luke in Star Wars
Think about a book or film with a female hero; how does that story fit the pattern defined by Pearson and Pope. (Two movies that work very well are Thelma and Louise and The Piano. )3. Northorp Frye on Modes
Northrop Frye is an archetypal critic; that is, he looks at literature in terms of plots, characters, and images which are repeated again and again from work to work. You could say that he takes Campbell=s monomyth and charts out the details of how that pattern reappears, changing from time to time, in literature. Frye noticed that as a culture's literature evolves through time, it tends to get more realistic. Greek literature started out as legends and religious rituals and myths, then moved towards realism in the great epic works of Homer and the classic dramas of Sophocles. The Anatomy of Criticism is Frye's encyclopedic attempt to describe a basic grammar of literature. The section you have from the "Theory of Modes" begins by describing five super-genres that literature passes through historically. Can you see American and or British literature passing through his modes? Think through books and movies again. Can you come up with examples of each mode? What mode is a fantasy such as Tolkein? What mode is a movie like Pretty Woman? And most important of all, of course, what mode is science fiction? Is it just one mode?4. Frye on Romance
This section describes the plots and characters of the mode Frye calls "romance." Romance is the meta mode of all literature for Frye. Halfway between myth (the abstract forms of an ideal world underlying all literature) and realism (the concrete necessities of life in the real world), romance is a genre in which magic can happen. In literature in English the age of the romance was the medieval period; the Arthurian romances are still used as the basis of many stories today. What are some contemporary romance genres? (It is interesting to puzzle out the relationship of Frye=s specialized use of the term "romance" to its contemporary cognates. What is a "romance" when you read it today? What are the associations between romance and romantic -- both in terms of "romantic" as in having to do with relationships and in terms of "Romantic" as in British Romantic Poetry?)5. Frye on Character
At first Frye explains the plot of romance in terms of three stages:
In a comedy, the sparagmos is followed by some kind of enlightenment or recognition or understanding -- often a scene of literal recognition (anagnorisis) in which the mysteriously orphaned hero is recognized by a birth mark or other token. Sometimes the anagnorisis is a kind of knowledge gained through suffering. In a tragedy, the order is often reversed: it is the understanding which leads to the suffering. In Oedipus Rex, for example, it is Oedipus= recognition of his own identity, of who his mother and father really are, that leads to the sparagmos, the ritual self-mutilation when he puts out his eyes. (Frye gets all these Greek terms from Aristotle=s description of the structure of tragedy in The Poetics.)
- agon (Greek for conflict),
- pathos (Greek for suffering),
- and anagnorisis (Greek for recognition).
- Later he adds a fourth phase, sparagmos (Greek for ritual death or dismemberment). The sparagmos marks the greatest intensity of pathos or suffering: Christ's crucifixion is our most sanctified example. Can you think of others?
What is the relationship between Frye's structure of romance and Campbell's outline of the monomyth? How does all of this relate to science fiction? Especially, for example, to Star Wars?
To accompany Frye's section of the characters of romance, I have made a chart of basic character functions as outlined in The Anatomy. Romance and comedy have basically the same character alignments; the major difference is the level of realism. Tragedy is the opposite. Frye is working here with very clear definitions of comedy and tragedy which have been very helpful to literary scholars. A comic plot is one in which the hero is initiated into or united with society. Typically, comedies end with marriages, the union of the two people symbolizing their participation in and belonging to society, and dances, whose intricate patterns of movement are seen as an imitation of the cosmic dance of the universe (remember the ending to Kenneth Brannaugh's Much Ado?) A tragic plot is one in which the hero is isolated from or cast out of society -- death being, of course, the ultimate form of isolation.
Is science fiction mostly comic or tragic? Can you think of other examples of stories in which the character functions are particularly clearly displayed? (One that just came to my mind was Jurassic Park.)