The Moorish Wanderer

Course 7 : the Promethean hero

Posted in American Minority Voices by Zouhair ABH on February 24, 2009

Last class… Or what the professor said : ‘voilà

Prometheus robbing fire from the gods

The Hero in minorities’ literature is like this Greek myth : The Titan that gave so many to  humankind, and eventually got chained to the Caucasus, and condemned to see his liver eaten by a vulture.

The Promethean figure suits both the minor author and their heroes, as cursed in their quest. Why so ? Many of the main characters we got acquainted to during the course where unique. Why Prometheus ? first off, the minor hero does not feel as if they belong to their native community :
→ Education : Kafka, through his very own history, could be identified as a minor hero, and, in our study cases, so did the Garcìa Girls with their American upbringing.
→ Personnal behaviour : Eddy refused to carry out a ‘vendetta’, an honour crime to revenge one of his relatives. Sedaris, in his way, adopted a crafty strategy in order to block any of the Federal agent’s attempts to correct his bad ‘s’ pronunciation.

Does education have a grip on the minor hero’s behaviour ? It seems not. One has to admit, however, that they are attracted to the dominant culture, an attraction that might find its roots in a deep desire for a better future for them and/or for their community : Gary Soto might have written a rather pessimistic, albeit ultra-realistic, novel, but the reference to onions, while it might remind of tears and pain, should not hide the fact that onions are an important part of Mediterranean-like food (and to an extent, Mexican food).

With abusive extrapolation, buried onions might be construed as a hidden hope, which the hero -Eddy- is eagerly looking for. As for the Garcìa girls, they had to experiment taboos within their own community, like sexual relationship outside/before marriage, drugs, cigarettes, feminine revolution and liberation… The minor hero takes their own life, their own body, to experiment what the ‘outside world’ is offering.

The minor hero feels as if they have to put themselves into questioning, as part of their community, but also as an alien part of the dominant culture. Do they get through this whole process for its own sake, do they want it for themselves ? I personally doubt that. It is true that all the heroes cases we took where remotely interested in their communities’ fates, however, their personal experiments might have serious repercussions on other members of the community : the older Garcìa girl (Sophìa) had to sacrifice herself to lead the way to her sisters. The hero breaks with centuries of rigid traditions (or bourgeois kind of norms), and whatever the result is, a precedent is created, and the autarkic way of living has to deal with sometimes a fatal breach. It is, quite simply (I might presume to much of this), the rebellion of an individual against a the community (a rebellion against mechanical solidarity, to paraphrase Durkheim)

This rebellion against a static and fatalist structure/environment has a lot in common with the Greek mythology : the minor hero is eventually kicked out of their native community, and their personal exile is hard to sustain. A personal exile indeed, since the dream they were pursing might turn out not to be quite what they want. The minor hero, rejected by both the native community and the dominant world confirms their statuts as uprooted or even stateless (in a sense).

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