The Archetype of the American Adam

 A recurring pattern,
character, theme,
symbol, story
 The pattern is repeated
yet altered to depict each
group who portrays it
 The archetype connects
with a common human
experience or emotion
 Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or
born into royalty
Leaves family or land and lives with others
An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure or quest
Hero has a special weapon only he can wield
Hero always has supernatural help
The Hero must prove himself many times while on
The Journey and the Unhealable Wound
Hero experiences atonement with the father
When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
RWB Lewis and
The American
 1955 published the book, The American
identifying the “true
American” in literature as an
Adam figure.
the plain old Adam, “the
simple genuine self against
the whole world.” (took this
from Emerson)
Identity of an initiatory
protagonist who was “morally
prior” (128-9) to the world in
which he lived.
nineteenth century American
Literature: Hawthorne,
Melville, Thoreau, Emerson,
Whitman, Cooper, and Henry
Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition
in the Nineteenth Century,
 To Europeans, the New World was a fresh start
 American was “unsullied” by history
 Society could be remade
 Individuals could start fresh
 Anything was possible
 This idea is what begins the idea of “The American
He is a social outsider
No family ties
Seeks his own “sense of
self” or identity
Moves west into the
Close ties to nature
Naïve nature leads him to
trouble and/or a fall
He will make many
mistakes but this is what
creates his “self”
 The American Adam is closely tied to
nature, he may live in the rough
natural landscape or just have an
affinity for nature
 He moves through the dangerous
wilds, towards an understanding of
 The geographies of the United States
often present the Adam with trials and
lessons that cause him to fail yet also
propel him forward
 By the end of the story, he will shun
society and head for a new frontier
 He is searching for a sense
of self
This can take the form of
finding family or surrogate
It can be a physically
challenging journey where
the Adam learns his limits
It can be a search for a
place to belong
The Adam thirsts for a
place to belong
 Huck has raised himself in the woods
 He is orphaned and without familial
He feels most comfortable in the wild
Though rudimentarily educated, he is
naïve about people and the harsh
realities of the world
He grows to know himself and his limits
as he ventures down the river
He seeks a family and eventually finds
that bond
In the end, he cannot be tamed and he
“lights out for the territory”
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