Heros in Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Homer's Odyssey, and Tan's Joy Luck Club
In world literature, there are two types of archetypal protagonists, the mythic hero and the tragic hero. Mythic heroes, like Homer's Odysseus, represent the combination of superhuman virtues and human imperfections. These traits create a supernatural adventure with a realistic character. The mythic hero is favored by divine powers and eventually achieves a certain goal or completes a certain journey. On the other hand, there is the tragic hero, like Sophocles' Oedipus. The unfortunate tragic hero has a penchant for attempting to escape a doomed fate. The tragic hero lives under the shadow that the gods place. Literature throughout the expanse of time has hovered around the lives of the mythic and tragic heroes. Contemporary novel The Joy Luck Club explores these themes as well. The two characters, Lindo Jong and Ying-ying St. Clair, exemplify the polar extremes of mythic vs. tragic.
Both mythic heroes and tragic heroes must pass through a series of set obstacles and wind their way toward a certain goal. The major difference between the two archetypes is how the protagonist reaches the end. Mythic heroes transgress through their journey with optimism and a building sense of accomplishment. Tragic heroes operate on the slant of pessimism and failing attempts to escape from a worse fate. To put it more clearly, the mythic hero tries to run toward success, while a tragic hero tries to run away from failure. In this sense, the story's attitude, the protagonists' control on fate, and the divinely ordained sequence of events work together to form the type of hero that takes the lead.
Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War, faces his greatest challenge in The Odyssey as he takes the long difficult road home to Ithaka. Throughout his journey, it is clear that he embodies the mythic hero archetype. The proof lies in the fact that the final destination, Ithaka, clearly overshadows his place of departure, war-torn Troy. In the following excerpt, Odysseus expresses gratitude and joy to King Alkínoös and Queen Arêtê, while embarking on his journey home.
"O king and admiration of your people, [...]
my blessings on you all! This hour brings
fulfillment to the longing of my heart:
a ship for home, and gifts the gods of heaven
make so precious and so bountiful.
After this voyage
god grant I find my own wife in my hall
with everyone I love best, safe and sound!" (Homer 361)
Additionally, the mere fact that the gods and the other characters are in favor of Odysseus' return home makes him a mythic hero. The mood of the story is one of victory, in which the best is yet to come. Odysseus revels in the feeling of eventual success because the other characters in the story are all on his side. Athena and some other gods and goddesses intervene into Odysseus' journey, ...