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2016-04-11T11:47:25+02:00

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INTRODUCTION   

In order to start my presentation about the notion Myths and Heroes, I will, first, define those two notions. Myth comes from the Greek mythos (mûthos) which is "a story or set of stories having a significant truth or meaning for a particular culture, religion, society or a group of people" (wiktionary). Myths are popular beliefs or traditions which often relate phenomenons or situations to heroes, gods or magic.

Hence (= thus) we these common words are rooted in the history of early societies and often are related to each other. If myths and heroes are present in many societies, they probably have different specificities depending on the cultures they are anchored in. By analysing those notions "myth and hero", we will try to answer the following question: if every society has its own heroes and myths but what are their purpose? Do they represent society's values and concerns?


I. THE FOUNDING MYTHS


1) The Arthurian legends

The Arthurian Legends has had a very important impact on the Anglo-saxon culture. Those legends were first described by Geoffroy de Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes and then English writers and poets adapted them in order to glorify the identity of their nation and to illustrate the value of an era.

- Sir Thomas Malory: (1415-1471): Le Morte D'Arthur 
- Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892): Idylls of the King is a victorian adaptation of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.


2) Founding myths in the USA

- The Pilgrim Father, Thanksgiving, The Shining Upon a Hill
- The Founding Fathers, The Constitution
- The Myth of the Frontier: Manifest Destiny

3) Founding Myths in South Africa

- The Great Trek: The Empty Land is a book written by Louis Lamour which regards the Boer Wars - which opposed the Transvaal Boer (the descendant of the Dutch immigrants who colonised South Africa) and the British Army. This book has been used to justify the Apartheid.
- The reconciliation around the figure of "the father" Mandela after the Springboks' victory during the Rugby world cup in 1995. Clint Eastwood depicted this story in his movie Invictus (2009)


II. HEROES AS A COHESIVE FACTOR


In search of a collective and an individual identity, the society creates its own heroes. As models to follow, they embody the values and concerns of an era.


1) The American Dream


 James Truslow Adams in 1931 gave a definition of the American Dream: 

"Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth".
The American dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal" with the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". 


 2) The Rags-to-Riches Myths


 - Definition: rags-to-riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth or from obscurity to fame. This is a common archetype in the American literature and popular culture:

·      Songs “Rags to Riches” by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (1953)

·      Horatio Alger Jr (1832 – 1899) is an American writer who is famous for his rags-to-riches narrative

·      The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald

- The Gilded Age is an era from 1870s to 1900 when the American economy was growing fast but suffered from inequality and poverty. Many people became rich but at the same time, a vast majority stayed poor. Mark Twain depicted this era in his book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.

- The Rags-to-Riches myth is still vivid in today’s society. Rappers, actors or businessmen like Jay-Z, Robert Downey Jr or Steve Jobs are examples of people starting from scratch and who worked hard to access the fame and the wealth.


3) The Myth of the cowboy


- The Cowboy Era (from 1866 to 1886) was a period when the cities on the East Coast were deprived of resources whereas Texas possessed over 6 million cattle roaming wild.

- The word ‘cowboy’ is a direct translation of the Spanish vaquero (= cow). Equivalents were used at this time like cowhand, buckaroo, cowpoke, cowpuncher but cowboy was the most common in the West, especially in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

 

III. SUBVERSIVE HEROES


Heroes are models for people and they sometimes choose to get rid of the social and moral codes that the society in which they were born put in place. In other words, heroes might blur the line between good and evil.


 1) The Rebel Heroes in the American and English Cultures


- Robin Hood is a very figure popular in the Anglo-saxon mythology, it even became an archetype of the hero taking money from the Rich in order to help poor people.

- Rob Roy (1671 – 1734) was a Scottish outlaw, who later became a folk hero fighting agains the English monarchy. That is why he was nicknamed “The Scottish Robin Hood”.

 

 

 

2016-04-11T11:50:54+02:00

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2) Gangsters, Prohibition and Bootleggers

- The prohibition (1920-1933) was a source of inspiration for Hollywood. The figure of the gangster became more and more popular and charismatic. Many movies were based on this topic: 

Little Caesar (LeRoy, 1931)

The Public Enemy (Wellman, 1931)

Scarface (Hawks, 1932) , ...

Those movies present gangsters as charismatic characters who inspire both fear and respect. 


- Gangster movie revival: thanks to Francis Coppola the gangster film genre came back (The Godfther, 1972). Since then, the gangster film genre has remained rather successful, gaining critical approval for films such as Scarface (De Palma, 1983), Goodfellas (Scorsese, 1990), Carlito’s Way (De Palma, 1993), Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994), and recently, The Departed (Scorsese, 2006).


- Al Capone is one mythical figure when we think about bootleggers and prohibition. Because he made donations to various charities, he was seen as a modern day Robin Hood and exerted a lot of influence on people before becoming Public Enemy No 1.


CONCLUSION

 

Heroes and myths convey an idea of social cohesion. The American Dream and the Rags-to-Riches myths allowed the American society to have an ideal. Because this society, made up of immigrants coming from everywhere and looking for success and wealth, was too diverse, it needed models to imitate in order to shape a cultural and social identity.

 

However, heroes can be subversive and act against the society that they were supposed to help. Robin Hood represents the archetype of the hero who helps the Poor whereas Al Capone was the extrem opposite: helping poor people from time to time was a way to hide his illegal activities and numerous murders. We have two opposite heroes, the Bad and The Good, and some of those subversive heroes don’t have this negative connotation like Bonnie and Clyde. They were gangsters but they inspire freedom, resistance to the system.