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The Hero’s Journey in Of Mice and Men, Great Expectations and Speak, Book Review Example

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Book Review

The three novels, Of Mice and Men, Great Expectations and Speak all incorporate the motif of the hero’s journey in their respective narratives. While each novel approaches this literary trope according to its own imperative, thus providing different contents, experiences and adventures which the main protagonists go through, it the shared narrative form of the hero’s journey that links the three texts together. In the following essay, we shall discuss how each novel respectively uses the hero’s journey as a focal point in their stories. We shall then conclude by comparing and summarizing these utilizations.

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the main protagonists undergo a journey with the aim of realizing economic prosperity. This dream of prosperity is in fact quite modest: the goal of George Milton and Lennie Small is to own their own piece of land. The theme of owning a piece of land may be understood as a heroic journey, as it suggests that the protagonists have a main clear goal which they wish to achieve, however difficult it may be. The difficulties in achieving this goal are clear in the bleak economic background that provides the setting for the novel. During the time of the Great Depression economic uncertainty is omnipresent, and the dream of owning a piece of land is set against this background of various hardships. The status of the main characters is also important to consider, as they are simple migrant field workers. From this lowly economic status, the two men attempt to test the limits of the so-called American dream and realize prosperity. Their narrative ends in tragedy, however, with the death of Small and Milton’s economic failure. Despite the failure of the heroes to accomplish their goals, the form of Of Mice and Men bears the traits of a hero’s journey as the protagonists attempt to realize their dream under the duress of a world that is ultimately oblivious to their ambition.

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is also overt in its theme of a hero’s journey. The main character Pip is born in extreme poverty and attempts to realize his goal of ascending the class ranks and becoming a gentleman in the setting of Victorian England. The obstacles faced by Pip are typical motifs in any heroic narrative: the overcoming of economic hardships and the antagonism with other characters who wish that Pip fails in his dream. The title of the novel itself recalls the hero’s journey: Great expectations are clear in every heroic narrative, as the heroic gesture is always one of a transcendence of certain difficult circumstances in order to realize a goal that is established at the outset of the narrative.

Laurie Helse Anderson’s Speak provides a modern twist on the motif of heroic journey by introducing her main character as the female protagonist Melinda Sordino. Moreover, Sordino’s journey is one of survival. After being raped, Sordino withdraws in herself as her character undergoes various phases of existential torment, accompanied with her rejection by social peers. Nevertheless, Sordino overcomes her own struggles and ultimately fends off her classmate, asserting her identity and individuality, in a heroic gesture that recalls the strengthening of the protagonist and their ultimate triumph.

All three novels thus incorporate elements of the hero’s narrative, however, in their own unique manners. In Dickens and Steinbeck’s work, there is an overwhelming theme of the hero struggling against economic systems, a monstrous apparatus. In Anderson’s narrative, a character attempts to assert their individuality against a societal system that excludes her. While the conclusions of all three narratives can be deemed to be disparate, they nevertheless all demonstrate the motif of a heroic journey, the struggle against exterior forces, and the attempt to realize an ambition and survive in a world that is indifferent and even cruel.

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