Re-Visioning of the Heroic Journey in Postmodern Literature

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This study explores the concept of every man and every woman as hero. Using three models of the heroic journey, this book identifies and delineates female and male heroes in a variety of works and genres of postmodern American culture. Joseph Campbell’s thesis as set forth in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) maintains 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. Exploring that assertion, the study also uses 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). These theories are applied to twentieth-century works from various cultures – Latin American, African American, and Anglo-American – and various genres – literature, film and drama. This work will appeal to scholars in a variety of areas including those researching identity, psychological development, and consciousness evolution in literary characters and how that development is influenced by the cultures and systems within which those characters live.


“In recent years, postmodern theorizing predicated on the lack of authentic human identity has seemed to dominate literary criticism. Identity has been theorized as unstable, shifting, and provisional, as linguistic rather than ‘real’ ... This has led, in some people’s view, to a despairing attitude toward the possibility of activism or hope, for individual, societal, or global transformation. In this well-written and convincing study, Dr. Leslie Erickson challenges these critical models ... While acknowledging the fragmented nature of postmodern life and the lure of despair, [the author] finds within these texts examples of the refusal to accept the call of the heroic journey and the embrace of it. Both lead to a realization that the everyday lives of women and men are meaningful, that our decisions have consequences, that transformation on both the individual and the cultural levels is possible.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Barbara DiBernard, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“This book considers one of the most vigorously debated issues in mythological studies. Is the ‘monomyth’ a patriarchal construct, designed to perpetrate phallocentric systems which privilege some and exclude others, or is it an archetypal roadmap for life, outlining a path to enlightenment, available to any who have the courage to pursue it? ... In this well-researched study, Dr. Erickson examines the heroic journey as it manifests in literature and film of a postmodern world, where ‘trials and tribulation’ are the challenges presented to contemporary individuals in a world speeding toward globalization ... Dr. Erickson opens the vistas of the postmodern heroic journey and points to those who are responding to the call of the new millennium.” – Dr. Druscilla French, President, Foundation for Mythological Studies, Santa Barbara, California

“In much of postmodern literary theory, the values that are most important to the individual and culture have been eschewed for a putatively value-free approach to literature. Fortunately, emerging on the scene are theorists, such as Dr. Erickson, who are not afraid to privilege life-enhancing values and consciousness development. This excellent analysis is well-written, compelling and forward-thinking.” – Professor Patricia Gordon, John Abbott College, Montreal, Canada

Table of Contents

Foreword by Barbara DiBernard
Introduction – “The Power of Myth”: Transformational Tools for Postmodern Heroes
1. Marginalized Heroes: An Integral Approach to Toni Morrison’s Everyday Heroes in Song of Solomon
2. In The Shadow of Salomé: Woman’s Heroic Journey in Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salomé
3. From Innocent to Magician: Biff’s Journey to Autonomy in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
4. Lester Burnham and Company: The Post Post-Modern Anti Anti-Heroes of American Beauty
Appendix 1: Models of the Heroic Journey

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