Early they are enamored of the world, happy, carefree, curious [e.g. Todd, Eben, the sperm]
Todd--broods about his heart disease until he decides to kill himself.
|main characters' dilemma||Barth summed up his protagonists' dilemma this
|main characters' masks/roles||
So when B's protagonists examine their lives and their world until everything becomes intolerably complex and overpowering, they escape by shifting their characters and distorting their situation, by putting on masks to face what they are up against.e.g. Todd-- a rake, saint, cynic, and relativist.
Horner--a nihilist, an "owl, peacock, chameleon, donkey, and popinjay"
Eben--a gentleman, poet, and virgin
Giles--a student, hero, and Grand Tutor
The trouble is that the protagonists are not always able to come up with viable roles to play...--crisis
|main characters' crisis (1)||[Todd's] main crisis occurs when the mask of
cynicism no longer hides his mind from his heart, and he is never all right
again until he assumes the new mask of relativist.
Horner--keeps in motion by practicing a variety of roles...then he nearly immobilizes himself because, as the Doctor points out, he gives himself the "wrong part" to play, that of penitent instead of villain....[his new role] autobiographer.
Eben--adheres too much to his role of moral innocent, and the crisis comes when he realizes how much harm he has done himself and others by persisting in that role.---the role of penitent.
|main characters' crisis (2)||Giles--finds himself to be the wrong kind of
Storytells in LF--the crisis in their lives a continuing one--what and how to keep writing--since to stop would mean getting lost, pining away, or killing themselves in the funhouse of the world.
|Each book brings its hero in contact with a mythotherapist
excellence: Captain Adam, the Doctor, Henry Burlingame, Harold Bray,
Proteus, each so equipped with multi-personalities that none is ever caught
with a mask down. They are what H. Burlingame describes himself: Cosmopholites,
Creation, Cosmic Lovers...
Their Cosmophilism is at one end of a spectrum, the opposite of which is Cosmopsis; both are based on a knowledge of the world's complexity, but mobility is the nature of the first and paralysis of the second...In between, each protagonist vacillates, now paralyzed, now relatively fluid.
|mythopoeic vision(1)||The central idea of the mythic, as Joseph Campbell
and others have demonstrated, is cosmic harmony, unity in multeity, and
this idea recurs implicitly or explicitly in each book.
Barth's first two protagonists, terrified by the unity they glimpse, retreat behind a shield of words.
SW--Henry Burlingame deliberately seeks cosmic harmony,
GGB--George, transcending categories, achieves it.
The problem of the mythopoeic writer is how to
translate mythic intimations, which are finally ineffable, into words capable
of evoking that which may not be articulated. Barth's next two books, LF
and Ch, address this difficulty, the former focusing primarily on the relationship
between sex, language, and myth; the latter, by far the most "socially
conscious" of Barth's first six books, showing how myth may inform life
as well as art.
| Letters, ..., completes this return
to the world while affirming that it is a worded world after all. Language,
properly employed, is the mythic though perhaps not mysitc ligature connecting
man, time, and world in a dynamic unity.