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Laurel and Thorn

Laurel and Thorn: The Athlete in American Literature

Robert J. Higgs
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Laurel and Thorn
    Book Description:

    To examine the social and cultural significance of the athlete hero in American literature, Robert J. Higgs turns to the works of Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams.

    Higgs views the athlete in literature not as an artistic creation but as one who reflects the tastes, attainments, beliefs, and ideals of his society. The athletes he describes as Apollonian are the know-it-alls, of whom Lardner's Busher Keefe is an example; the Dyonisian, as exemplified by Irwin Shaw's Christian Darling, worships his body as an end in itself. The Adonic seeks knowledge for the sake of self-realization and lives in a world of tension, pain, struggle, and hope. Such a figure is Wolfe's Nebraska Crane. Higgs finds in contemporary American literature a clear rejection of the Apollonian and Dyonisian models and an acceptance of the Adonic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6299-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1. Game Plan
    (pp. 1-21)

    A study of anything must begin in dissection; before a new understanding of the whole can be reached there must be an analysis of the parts. An examination of the athlete or, more specifically, the athlete in American literature is no exception. Who is the athlete? In Greek and Roman antiquity, he was “one who competed for a prize in public games,” especially games requiring strength and stamina, and the definition is as relevant today as in classical times. There are a number of key words in this definition, but none more important than the wordone.Who is this...

  5. 2. Apollo
    (pp. 22-90)

    For whatever reason, spoofing of spurious heroes and their codes has almost consistently appeared after the particular convention ridiculed had become obsolete or was becoming so. As has frequently been remarked, Falstaff and Don Quixote came onto the scene after chivalric pretense had had its day; Samuel Butler appears to have waited for the comparative safety of the Restoration to debunk the Presbyterian knight; and Henry Fielding withTom Thumbwas, according to Bonamy Dobree, “whipping a dying dog” with his satire of bombast in the age of Dryden. Similarly, Buffalo Bill was on his way out when Mark Twain...

  6. 3. Dionysus
    (pp. 91-118)

    Just as there are many masks for Apollo, so are there many for Dionysus. The sacrificial Dionysus or Adonis gains one’s admiration or pity, but that Dionysus whose forms are the lovely youth with curled hair or the wild bull and burning flame is the unconscious apostle of chaos and death. I have designated these Dionysian athletes the “darling,” the beloved pet of the witnessing woman, and the “naked beast,” a sadist who cannot transcend a perverted nature.

    Other terms that might apply in discussion of the darling are “golden boy,” “pretty boy,” “lover boy,” and “sonny boy,” but none...

  7. 4. Adonis
    (pp. 119-177)

    Thus far the image of the athlete has not been particularly flattering, but as a “natural” he is seen in an altogether different light. While he is now an admirable Adonis figure, he is ironically unappreciated or rejected by his society. To one degree or another he is a rebel, and in his refusal to come to terms with the establishment he illustrates what has been a major theme in American literature since the second quarter of the nineteenth century: the plight and flight of the natural person. Natty Bumppo one step ahead of “all the inventions and deviltries of...

  8. 5. The Wrap-up
    (pp. 178-182)

    In his discussion of “American Demigods” F. O. Matthiessen states that George Washington Harris’s Wirt Staples is the blood brother of Melville’s Bulkington ofMoby Dick,who in Ishmael’s eyes “stood full six feet in height, with noble shoulders, and a chest like a coffer-dam. I have seldom seen such brawn in a man. His face was deeply brown and burnt, making his white teeth dazzling by the contrast; while in the deep shadows of his eyes floated some reminiscences that did not seem to give him much joy. His voice at once announced that he was a Southerner, and...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 183-190)
  10. Index
    (pp. 191-196)