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The Myth and the American South in Orpheus Descending

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2012, 25(3), pp.53-80
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Soim Kim 1

1건국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The Christian and Greco-Roman mythical patterns in Orpheus Descending have been discussed in depths by many scholars. But it is also crucial in understanding the play that it sets in the 20th century American South. This play combines the mythical elements in settings, characters, and incidents with the very contemporary issues in the American South such as the human rights, religion, the women’s rights, and violence. For instance, Two Rivers County, the background of the play, has the mythical quality as the Greek underworld, Hades but at the same time it is a small southern town which is instilled with racism and violence. All of the mythical elements are intertwined with the unique southern characteristics. For instance, Val, a drifter with a guitar, is an Orpheus figure who is expected to rescue the women caught in Hades-like town. But at the same time he is a rebel against the racist and patriarchal southern town. Vee, Lady, and Carol, the three women who resist the oppressive Southern culture, also accommodate the mythical characteristics. The relationship between Christ and saint Veronica certainly resonates with that between Vee, the religious visionary and painter, and Val. But their relationship is also grounded in the racist Southern society. Vee’s vision is instigated by her sensitive observation of violence in her town as a Sheriff’s wife. The Orpheus and Eurydice pattern is observed in the relationship between Val and Lady. But at the same time Lady is a victim of the racial hostility toward an outsider because her Italian father was killed by the white supremacists on a charge of selling the liquor to the blacks. Carol, a prophet figure, predicts and warns against the dangers Val faces in this town. But the dangers she perceives are related to racial terror and lynch, the products of the unique southern environment. In the end of the play, Val is killed by the terrorists because Jabe Torrance, Lady’s husband, falsely blames him as a killer and a robber. His death can be interpreted mythically as well as in the context of the American south. Mythically Val patterns after Orpheus because he fails to bring Lady back from the world of death as Orpheus failed. His death also resembles that of Christ because he dies owning to other people’s sins. But the snakeskin that Val has worn survives the blowtorch that killed Val and is transferred to Carol. Carol, an activist for the rights and welfare of the black people has fought against the vices in the American South. The survival of Carol and the snakeskin signifies the new spirit which can restore the morality and values in the American South.

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