Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination Essay Example
Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination Essay Example

Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination Essay Example

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  • Pages: 5 (1272 words)
  • Published: October 29, 2017
  • Type: Analysis
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According to Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination, literary conventions are typical patterned ways of writing that happen repeatedly over time in the world of literature. To write stories, the writers imitate other people's work, which they have read before. Therefore literary conventions become commonplace as a traditional way of writing. Also, Frye has mentioned that "Literature can only derive its form from itself: they (conventions) can't exist outside literature" (p. 15). Frye means that literature exists as a whole; a new country does not produce new literature, but it adopts the literature that people already knew about.

Before I start to read or watch the stories, I am capable of predicting what kind of stories they are, but not the particular set of events they have, because I have read that kind of stories before and recognized the same types of


characters and plots, diction, style, and forms of writing. Most readers are unaware of their highly conventionalized worlds, but they essentially know about conventions because conventions have become a deeply embedded tradition of telling stories for writers. Therefore, readers who are exposed to many kinds of conventions will know how the stories will proceed and recognize the stories as interrelated.

An illustration of the hero's journey convention, for example, is the story of Hercules in Greek mythology, found in the award-winning movie about a Roman hero, The Gladiator; the Cinderella story convention is found in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night play, and both also illustrate the cyclic story of the loss and regaining of identity. An early example of the hero's journey convention in which the hero progresses through the life cycle of success, failures, and the

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back to success is the story of Hercules. The hero loses self-identify; however, he regains it after he overcomes obstacles.

The hero's adventures, death, disappearance, and marriage are parts of this kind of story. Women characters are also influential. For instance, Hercules's father, Zeus, favors Hercules so much that his wife, Hera, is jealous and tries to kill the baby. Because of her action, Hercules loses his immortal identity to live in the mortal world. Another example of convention is his adventure in which he successfully steals the cattle of Geryon and retrieves the apples of the Hesperides. He successfully defeats Cerberus in the last adventure and plans to regain his identity as a god.

His wife, however, unintentionally gives him a cloak soaked in a centaur's blood to test his faithfulness, killing him painfully. By comparison with Hercules, the character Maximus in the movie The Gladiator, has many similar characteristics of a hero in the hero's journey convention. He is a beloved, brave, skillful, and kind-hearted soldier, but is hated and sent by the emperor's jealous son, Commodus, to be a gladiator. Eventually, Maximus defeats Commodus, who has killed Maximus' wife and children.

In her conventional role as an influential woman character, Commodus's half-sister, Lucille, helps Maximus kill Commodus. As in Hercules's story ending, Maximus defeats the enemy even though he dies. Overall, he succeeds by meeting with his perished wife and children in the afterlife. As in these examples, conventions can stimulate curiosity in the audience about how the story will turn out to be different from other stories. For instance, the woman character in The Gladiator helps Maximus instead of trying to kill him.

The modern

movie The Gladiator follows the hero's journey convention as does the story of Hercules in Greek mythology. Another story, Cinderella, is the fairy tale convention of the transformation from the poor, lowly maid to the princess. This kind of story is romantic as one character becomes powerless and falls in love with another character, who has a higher status. With the help from another character, the maid transforms back, regains her power, and attracts and marries the beloved one in the end.

For example, Cinderella has become powerless after her mother dies and her father marries a cruel woman. Cinderella is required to clean the house, prepare meals, and sleeps in the ashes. Another example of the convention is her love of the unreachable prince; however, with the birds' help, she transforms into a beautiful woman and dances with the prince who falls in love with her. When the spell breaks at midnight, she hurries back and accidentally loses one of her slippers, which the prince uses to find and marry her in the convention of the happy ending.

Compared with Cinderella, Viola in the play Twelfth Night is not badly treated by her family but she is shipwrecked and loses her brother, Cesario, and has to find means to support herself in the strange land. Viola is advised by the ship's captain to disguise herself as a pageboy to serve the Duke, Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Finally, Viola reveals her identity as a woman to Duke Orsino, who asks her to marry him. Obviously the happy ending of the Cinderella story convention has been repeated in the play, but with some twists in

the plot, because other writers are inspired by and imitate the conventional story of Cinderella.

Although the stories' contents are different, the Cinderella story convention of a poor girl who transforms into a beautiful woman and marries the prince she loves is evident in the Twelfth Night, in which Viola transforms herself from a pageboy into a beautiful woman and marries Orsino. Conventions like those of the hero's journey and the Cinderella fairy tale are patterns that recur in every form of literature and take us beyond the real world; yet, they enrich readers and connect their imaginations with the real world (p. 0). As a result, understanding conventions and pondering questions of love are important, as Frye mentions: "My subject is the educated imagination, and education is something that affects the whole person, not bits and pieces of him. It doesn't just train the mind: it's a social and moral development, too" (p. 66). Conventions help people to think more clearly, more sensitively, and live a better life than people who have never known about them.

For example, although the Cinderella convention in the Twelfth Night allows readers to imagine an unusual, lucky life of a woman who becomes a princess, it teaches the readers that love can cause suffering. As neither Cinderella nor Viola can have the man they want at the beginning, both of them always daydream and suffer until the happy endings. Therefore, people who are familiar with the conventions not only find the story entertaining or as a means for them to escape their ordinary lives, but also understand that too much love can cause suffering and desperation.

They will maintain their love

for themselves in real life rather than give all of their hearts to their lovers. By contrast, people who have never read the Cinderella story nor watched the play Twelfth Night will hardly recognize the theme of love in other stories and never try to ponder the cause of pain they suffer in their personal love lives, so they will think that the other person who hurts them is wrong, and that life treats them badly.

Another example is The Gladiator movie that has influenced me to become stronger. Because I can imagine myself as Maximus, I also feel calmer every time I face difficulties and become discouraged. Therefore, literary conventions in the form of either popular media or literature have values worth studying, because they inspire and help build people's imagination in the way they look at their world and act in their real lives.

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