Sweeney Among the Archetypes

Sweeney Among the Archetypes - Sweeney Among the Archetypes...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Sweeney Among the Archetypes: The Literary Hero in American Culture Jeff House Quick: what’s the connection between Willa Cather and McDonald’s? Recall the latest golden arches commercial: farm- fresh eggs gathered by an elderly, hardworking farmer; images of biscuits juxtaposed against pictures of fields of ripened grain yielding gratefully before the tractor; sizzling sausage and a cup of coffee held by a lined hand, worn from years of contact with the land. Get the message? Willa Cather may be fine art, but her inspiration is the same muse that moves Madison Avenue. Folk themes and Wall Street draw from the same well of American values. And that connection suggests an approach to a survey of American literature. By noting the recurrent archetypes and motifs that recur in American culture, we can see literature as both a reaction to and development of these ideas. Examined in its cultural milieu, American literature reveals its broader concerns. Such an approach is made easier by first understanding the kinds of art that literature, and other works, are expressed in. Without any clearly definable differences dehveen any two, there do seem to be some differences, as Ray Browne in “Popular Culture-New Notes Towards a Definition” suggested. Without drawing any value judgments, let me define folk art as a nearly spontaneous expression, impulsive and immediate, honed to simplistic forms for maximal, emotional effect. Popular art works with established forms, consciously created to reinforce mass-accepted ideas and values. So-called fine art often draws from the previous two but is more intent on commentary and evaluation, preferring the crafted over the spontaneous quality of folk art, and a criticaVevaluative perspective over the reassurances of pop art. A treatment of the historic Johnny Appleseed illustrates the point. John Chapman’s interest in apple trees led to the legend of Johnny Appleseed; Walt Disney’s cartoon version over a century later planted images of Appleseed’s gentility, ecology and connection with Midwestern values; and finally, Hugh Nissonsen’s 1985 work, The Tree of Life, recasts Chapman closer to the religious zealot and social misfit he was. Understanding how this archetype is portrayed and written about provides a range of insights into our values and beliefs. A culture creates heroes who embody the values it most honors, and America’s heroes reflect its provincial and Protestant roots. A nation built in reaction to the constraints of hierarchies and institutions would produce heroes more oriented toward individual achievement, aiding others more often when they are victimized by authoritative systems. As Jungians Carol Pearson and Robert Henderson, among others, have noted, heroes tend to fall into one of several archetypal categories, paralleling different stages of growth. I would characterize the four stages as that of the innocent, the trickster, the warrior, and the wise saint and, though American culture has
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 04/20/2008 for the course IDS 102 taught by Professor Eaton during the Spring '08 term at North Shore Community College.

Page1 / 7

Sweeney Among the Archetypes - Sweeney Among the Archetypes...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online