Heroes and Anti-Heroes

Syllabus Hero Patterns Outline of Two Hero Patterns

Introduction to a few of the basic hero patterns

Otto Rank (following Freud)

Rank finds heroism in the first part of life. This is the phase of leaving one’s parents, striking out into the world for the first time, and establishing an independent identity. Independence does not, however, equate to simple rejection of parents and the whole past from which the Rankian hero emerges. Independence requires self-sufficiency, freedom from dependence upon one’s origin, not merely a rejection of that origin (in fact, often a reclamation of that origin). Ultimately, for Rank, what the hero seeks is to replace or take the position of one’s father. This seems to place Rank’s hero squarely in the position of Freud’s Oedipus, a figure who unwittingly kills his own father, replacing that father as the husband of the woman who turns out to be the hero’s own mother. Rank outlines a clear pattern below:

The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king. His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness, or secret intercourse of the parents due to external prohibition or obstacles. During or before the pregnancy, there is a prophecy, in the form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth, and usually threatening danger to the father (or his representative). As a rule, he is surrendered to the water, in a box. He is then saved by animals, or by lowly people (shepherds), and is suckled by a female animal or by an humble woman. After he has grown up, he finds his distinguished parents in a highly versatile fashion. He takes his revenge on his father, on the one hand, and is acknowledged, on the other. Finally he achieves rank and honors. (Rank 27)

The rank and honors the Rankian hero all too often achieves, however, are the rank and honors of the parental generation that the hero has now displaced and destroyed.

Carl Jung

Jung finds heroism primarily, but not exclusively, in the second half of life. He does acknowledge the necessity of separation from parents and the forging of an independent, adult identity, but this is only the beginning for Jung. What is done after the establishment of independence (physical, financial, spiritual, psychological) is far more important for Jung than is the process of becoming independent.

For Jung, the ultimate goal, and therefore the ultimate heroism, is the development of full and complete consciousness. An individual’s relationship to the outside world must be balanced by an awareness of an inner reality, what Jung refers to as the unconscious. This is the process of individuation, the attempt to create a state of wholeness out of a state of fragmentation, or in more Jungian terms, an integration of the conscious personality—the "ego"—with the larger unconscious:

Just as a man still is what he always was, so he already is what he will become. The conscious mind does not embrace the totality of a man, for this totality consists only partly of his conscious contents, and for the other and far greater part, of his unconscious, which is of indefinite extent with no assignable limits. In this totality the conscious mind is contained like a smaller circle within a larger one. (Jung 258)

Individuation is not merely a process of becoming more and more individual—in the sense of growing further and further apart from one's fellows—rather, it is

an act of self-recollection [similar to the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis—literally "unforgetting"], a gathering together of what is scattered, of all the things in us that have never been properly related, and a coming to terms with oneself with a view to achieving full consciousness. (Jung 263)

The idea of forming unity out of a pre-existing state of fragmentation is a central part of Jung's concept of individuation. For Jung, increasing consciousness, achieved through an integration of the "ego" with the "self," or the conscious portion of the personality with the larger totality of conscious plus unconscious elements in the individual, leads to a transcendent wholeness; it is this struggle to achieve a transcendent wholeness that is the heroic struggle. For Jung, myths and hero-tales are paradigms of the attempt to achieve individuation.

Joseph Campbell

Campbell’s most famous work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, locates heroism almost exclusively in the second half of life. Where Rank’s hero returns to confront his mother and father, Campbell’s departs from mother and father, encountering male and female figures (often gods) along the way that seek to aid or prevent the hero from accomplishing his goal.

Campbell’s "Hero’s Journey" paradigm can be boiled down in the following manner:

Stage I: Separation/Departure

  1. The Call to Adventure—"the signs of the vocation of the hero"
  2. Refusal of the Call—"the folly of the flight from the god
  3. Supernatural Aid—"unsuspected assistance" often from a superhuman source
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold—the point of no return
  5. The Belly of the Whale—"the passage into he realm of night," or underworld

Stage II: Trials and Victories of Initiation

  1. The Road of Trials—"the dangerous aspect of the gods"
  2. The Meeting with the Goddess—"the bliss of infancy regained"
  3. Woman as the Temptress—"The realization and agony of Oedipus"
  4. Atonement with the Father—or identification with a replacement father figure
  5. Apotheosis—literally, a joining with divinity
  6. The Ultimate Boon—something invaluable brought back to the everyday world

Stage III: Return and Reintegration with Society

  1. Refusal of the Return—"the world denied"
  2. The Magic Flight—"the escape of Prometheus"
  3. Rescue from Without—assistance in returning to the everyday world
  4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold—"the return to the world of common day"
  5. Master of the Two Worlds—freedom to pass back and forth between two worlds
  6. Freedom to Live—"the nature and function of the ultimate boon"

"The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again—if the powers have remained unfriendly to him his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir)." (Campbell 245-46)

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1968.

Jung, Carl. The Collected Works. Eds. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham and Gerhard Adler. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. (vol 11). New York: Pantheon Books, 1953-1979.

Rank, Otto. "The Myth of the Birth of the Hero." In Quest of the Hero. Robert A. Segal (introduction). Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.