FO RE WO RD O ver the centuries, heroes in literature have metamor- phosed from godlike leaders to all-too-fallible humans. Prince Ham- let—brilliant, bedeviled, articulate, self-destructive—is an unforgettable early archetype. By the past century, literary protagonists had become complex human beings, even antiheroes, whose lives still represented something greater than their own failings. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby is a modern antihero who in the pursuit of the love of his life cre- ates an ill-fated—even if well-intended and grandly American—palace of illusion. Richard Poirier in A World Elsewhere: The Place of Style in Ameri - can Literature noticed a tendency in American literature, especially in comparison with British literature, to displace the real with the imag- ined and the realistic with the romantic. America’s emblematic literary characters aspire to freedom, fulfillment, and even heroism as opposed to achievement or thoughtful morality. Instead of learning social and moral lessons, like many of Jane Austen’s or Charles Dickens’s pro- tagonists—better judgment, kindness, honesty—the American oeft n wants something grander. Melville’s Captain Ahab lives to obliterate a self- created representative of evil and nihilism—the white whale. Haw- thorne’s characters struggle for self-realization against social constraint. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen
The Missouri Review – University of Missouri
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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