Date of Graduation

1998

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

Novels written by Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Ursula Le Guin, and Barbara Kingsolver between 1971 and 1993 demonstrate a pattern of female heroism that both continues and revises the male monomyth as described by Joseph Campbell. The motifs these women's novels share with the traditional monomyth include: (1) the quest itself; (2) mysterious parentage; (3) the magical guide; (4) the slaying of the monster; (5) the boon; (6) (sometimes) the sacred marriage and the return. The elements either unique to the female quest or containing a different emphasis from the monomyth are: (1) enclosure in a patriarchal system; (2) naming of one's own reality; (3) the discovery or creation of community; (4) the possibility of egalitarian marriage. In the novels examined—The Color Purple, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, The Tombs of Atuan, Tehanu, The Bean Trees, and Pigs in Heaven---the hero's enclosure is gender-related. She is entrapped by the conditions of female life in her society. Conventional marriage and gender-role expectations function as enclosures. She often escapes by learning to trust her own perceptions and to name the world for herself. The discovery or creation of a community of equals is the female quest narrative's most significant departure from the monomyth; the hero is not set apart from others in a hierarchy of value. Another departure is the frequent communal nature of the heroism itself, in contrast to the monomyth's emphasis on individualism. Moreover, the female hero seeks alternatives to violence; no monsters are literally slain by the hero. The hero's marriage in Tehanu and Pigs in Heaven, both novels of the 1990's, differs from the marriage of the monomyth, from the romance plot, and from the negative or compromised marriages presented in earlier women's fiction. These marriages represent not merely heterosexual union but movement beyond duality; they constitute a feminist re-imagining of relationships between men and women that will continue reshaping the traditional story of the hero.

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