In her article "The Meaning of Myth in Ulysses and The Magic Mountain" Susan V. Scaff discusses the proposition that Joyce and Mann combine in their novels myth and history and contradicts Joseph Frank's influential early view that modernist writers avoid history in favor of myth and the more recent verdict of Hayden White that this evasion amounts to an abrogation of civic responsibility mirroring fascism. Mann and Joyce recoil from the horrors of history while exploring the recovery of myth as amelioration. They realize that myths may lose their life bearing quality, and they portray a disoriented Europe lacking the creative power to reestablish connection with its grounding traditions. If humanity cared enough for its welfare, it would recall the regenerative myths of its heritage, yet the protagonists falter. While Hans Castorp, Stephen Dedalus, and Leopold Bloom are cast as heroes in ancient myths of return, in the present day no character completes his story. Just as disturbing, partisans like Joyce's Mr. Deasy and the citizen and Mann's Naphta and Settembrini defend racist and nationalist "myths." The novels balance these risks of unfulfillment and hostility with a theme of healing love represented most powerfully by Bloom: love creates attachments to family, home, and mythical heritage, the only hope for humanizing our lives and history.
Scaff, Susan V.
"The Meaning of Myth in Ulysses and The Magic Mountain."
CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
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