The Development of Myth in Post-World-War-II American Novels

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Most primitive mythologies recognize that suffering can provide an opportunity for growth, but Western man has developed a mythology in which suffering is considered evil. He conceives of some power in the universe which will oppose evil and abolish it for him; God, and more recently science an, technology, were the hoped-for saviors that would rescue him. Both have been disappointing as saviors, and Western culture seems paralyzed by its confrontation with a future which seems death-filled. The primitive conception of death as that through which one passes in initiatory suffering has been unavailable because the mythologies in which it ... continued below

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iii, 247 leaves

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Hall, Larry Joe August 1974.

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  • Hall, Larry Joe

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Most primitive mythologies recognize that suffering can provide an opportunity for growth, but Western man has developed a mythology in which suffering is considered evil. He conceives of some power in the universe which will oppose evil and abolish it for him; God, and more recently science an, technology, were the hoped-for saviors that would rescue him. Both have been disappointing as saviors, and Western culture seems paralyzed by its confrontation with a future which seems death-filled. The primitive conception of death as that through which one passes in initiatory suffering has been unavailable because the mythologies in which it was framed are outdated. However, some post-World-War-II novels are reflecting a new mythology which recognizes the threat of death as the terrifying face the universe shows during initiation. A few of these novels tap deep psychological sources from which mythical images traditionally come and reflect the necessity of the passage through the hell of initiation without hope of a savior. One of the best of these is Wright Morris's The Field of Vision, in which the Scanlon story is a central statement of the mythological ground ahead. This gripping tale uses the pioneer journey west to tell of the mysterious passage the unconscious can make through the ccntempoorary desert to win the bride of life. It serves as an illuminator and normative guide for evaluating how other novels avoid or confront the initiatory hell. By the Scanlon standard, some contemporary mythology is escapist. Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Cat's Cradle express the youthful desire to arrive almost automatically at a new age, either with help from a new Christ or through practicing a simplistic morality. Other novels tell of the agony of modern Grail questers who sense that a viable myth is possible, but cannot completely envision it nor accomplish the passage through the void to gain it. The hindrances in each case are powerful forces which exert control over society. These forces are scientific objectivity and racism in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and an unbeatable Combine which forces people to be rabbits and like it in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Thomas Pynchon's The Cring of Lot 49 makes clear thet the confining forces are sustained because the secret of life has been lost, and man needs protection from the void which he cannot face without the secret. Saul Bellow deals directly with mythologies in Mr. Sammler's Planet. On the one hand is the popular view which ignores what every man knows is right and asserts instead that whatever one wants, he should have. This view replaces the archetypal sustaining images with a myth of continuous progress which, now that progress has faltered, makes living seem overwhelmingly hopeless. However, Sammler believes that meaning is established in life even as it collapses. The good man is part of an elite which is unusually intelligent and discerning, able to develop the will to carry out the contract with life and to enjoy the mystic potency in living. The novels in this study indicate a trend toward a reformulation of the basic mythological structures of Western man. Possibly the belief is weakening that something from somewhere will save him from his given situation, and a mythology is emerging which tells of significant life in the common, discovered through an awareness of the archetypal consciousness.

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iii, 247 leaves

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  • August 1974

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Hall, Larry Joe. The Development of Myth in Post-World-War-II American Novels, dissertation, August 1974; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc500388/: accessed June 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .