Northrop Frye's Monomyth

(the story of summer)

(the story of fall)

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(the story of spring)

(the story of winter)

Frye argues that all literature (perhaps all of life) participates in this overarching monomyth, which mimics the cycle of the yearly seasons.  He suggests that all stories are somewhere along this cycle.

It seems to me that there are a number of problems with Frye's system of archetypal classification, not the least of which is the problem of how we can isolate these few elements as what undergirds all literature.  Nonetheless, they do offer suggestive entry points in discussing the mythic or symbolic qualities of some literature, such as Cather's. Cather, after all, holds that there are essentially only a few basic plots in the human story, and she also attaches a certain amount of power to mythic and symbolic expression. Which of the following are present in My Antonia?


Specific Monomyth Motifs:

1. Quest
A hero leaves the security of home and undertakes an ordeal that tests his or her powers. Temporarily defeated, the obstacles are overcome, and either the hero returns in triumph or in a new state of understanding.

- A hero endures death/danger to return to life/security

3. Initiation
- A hero is thrown from an ideal situation in order to undergo tests that result in a passage from ignorance to maturity.

4. Journey
A hero moves through tests that result in character development

5. Fall from Innocence
-- A hero begins in bliss but ends in brokenness.

6. Comedy
-- A story that moves from prosperity through a fall and a return to joy and success

7. Crime and Punishment
-- Social order is threatened and restored.

8. Temptation

-- An innocent becomes the victim of seduction

9. Rescue
-- A hero undergoes life-threatening circumstances and is delivered

10. Rags-to-Riches
-- A hero overcomes social ostracism and/or poverty

11. Scapegoat
-- Someone must dies for the larger society in order for it to return to prosperity.

Frye argues that in addition to this overarching monomyth that works of literature tend to fall along the following two sets of  continuums:

1) High-Low Mimesis (how human nature is portrayed) & Realism -Symbolism (meaning is attached to action)

2) Personal-Social & Experiential-Intellectual

Where would you place Cather's novel in each of these?

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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding