Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Hero Obscured

Just a thought before I go. Booker's The Seven Basic Plots, which I am enjoying so much, and hope to finish over vacation has a repeated observation common to many of the basic plots: The hero or heroine obscured. From the comedies where one of the parties is disguised or mistaken for someone else to the heroic tales where the seemingly unimportant figure turns out to be the king or the long-lost princess in the end, the hero obscured must be enormously important to us psychologically.

Other variations include a character with amnesia, or in the grip of an obsession which makes them not themselves, or overshadowed by an unrelenting parent of other dark figure, or away on a long journey, or, or, or... simply everything, it seems, from Odysseus to about half the characters in LOTR or Star Wars.

Booker relates this to coming of age and coming to wholeness. Only when the disguise is off in the end can the character become whole and join her other half and inherit the kingdom. Rather than being about romance and wealth, the stories are about the personality and society coming into balance, drawing on our desire for romance and wealth as symbols of that wholeness.

Pick a story. Jane Austen. PG Wodehouse. David and Goliath. The hero or heroine is obscured in some way, and the resolution of that is the plot.


Erin said...

I had several senior students last spring write excellent, college level papers about Shakespeare's use of disguise and mistaken identity. Shakespeare often uses the technique alongside playing with gender roles, but I'm not sure how prevalent that is in literature as a whole. Depending on the author, some protagonists find wholeness by returning to the stereotyped role society places on them. Other works show protagonists that that break free from the social norms (I would think mainly women) and find wholeness when they are content with themselves, with or without society's approval. Curious to know if Booker gets into this aspect of identity.

Ben-David said...

One stream of Jewish philosophy describes God as hiding behind the veil of material nature - just as the spark of the divine in all of us is cloaked in the physical body.

In this view, the purpose of this material world is to obscure truth just enough to enable freely willed human choice.

And good stories are about choices.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Booker would say it is all symbolic of the individual self, accepting both feminine and masculine aspects to become a whole person - not much about societal roles at all.

I doubt I'd say that with much vehemence. I see that as an aspect, not the entirety, of stories.