Monomyth and Personal Quest in Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber"

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Monomyth and personal quest of the heroine in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

Andra Babici

Literatura inglesa contemporánea

2010 – 2011

All the great mythologies and much of the mythic story-telling of the world are from the male point of view. When I was writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces and wanted to bring female heroes in, I had to go to the fairy tales. These were told by women to children, you know, and you get a different perspective. It was the men who got involved in spinning most of the great myths. The women were too busy; they had too damn much to do to sit around thinking about stories.[1]

The first conclusion that we could draw from Joseph Campbell’s statement is that myths are told by men, and fairy tales are told by women, that while men went out to create the myths, women stayed home and thought about them, and created their own myths, this time with a feminine hero, with a heroine. Certainly, many of the myths are told from a masculine point of view, all the good deeds are narrated in detail, and the hero eventually saves the princess. This part of saving the maiden in danger is just a part of the hero’s journey, while in a fairy tale, the maiden is saved by someone who appeared from nowhere just in the right moment (the forester in Little Red Hood, or the prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). I should say that myths are about heroes saving the world, while fairy tales are, as their name suggests, about fairies being saved.

It is evident that there are certain differences between those tales whose protagonist is a hero and those others whose main character is a heroine. I would even dare to say that the first category, tales, are more appreciated by boys, while fairy tales are for the girls to enjoy. These stories were part of the popular oral tradition, until authors like The Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen decided to write them down so parents could read them out to their children when they went to bed.

And then Angela Carter came.

What I aim to show with this essay is that the structure of Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” story fits into what Joseph Campbell called the hero’s journey, or the monomyth (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p.30). There are traces in the text that prove that the heroine’s actions follow the steps of “departure”, “initiation” and “return”, into which Campbell divides the monomyth (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p.36). But there is a small difference between the traditional myth that follows this structure, and the fairy tale “The Bloody Chamber”, and this difference consists of the fact that while the mythical hero’s journey is undertaken into the aim of helping the hero’s community, this heroine’s journey is more personal, more interior, and aimed at her personal psychological maturation. Of course, the world is better after the Marquis is dead, but if the Marquis had not entered her life, the heroine would not have done anything to change the global situation, as, for example, happens in the myth of Beowulf. Beowulf fights evil not for his benefit, but for the sake of the community he lives in. This is a general characteristic of the fairy tales: the heroine undertakes action only because there is a situation that personally and directly affects her life.

I will start here by explaining the steps of the heroine’s journey, that correspond to the steps of the hero’s journey, explained by Joseph Campbell in his comparative mythology work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 1949[2]. Mainly, Joseph Campbell’s theory is that myths from all over the world, from all times, in the most ancient versions, have a common fundamental structure, which he calls “monomyth”, a term borrowed from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, or the hero’s journey. As he puts it in his own words:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a...
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