The Educated Imagination: Chapter 5 Essay

The Spectrums Purpose

The fifth chapter of The Educated Imagination, “The Verticals of Adam” by Northrop Frye, explains his feelings about the necessity for children to be exposed to some fundamental texts in the literary spectrum in a certain order to best enable them to understand twentieth century society. The understanding of the Christian Bible, and Greek/Roman mythology are said by Frye to be key factors in how a child will interpret future literature. It is noted by Frye that the bible should be taught first, followed by the mythologies of the Greeks/Romans. I agree with his ideas about the order of exposure, as being the foundation of western society as it is best suited to being the foundation for learning of a child from said society.

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Frye focuses less on the religious aspects of the Bible, and more about how it serves to act as an inspiration for the structure of more modern literature. While gaining knowledge of the stories, it also greatly improves our understanding of the references and allusions present in literature. Additionally, we can also use an understanding of mythology to help further our understanding of both the morals of a hero, and their life cycle. I agree with Frye’s theory, as it has been evident in my own learning that an understanding of those works would give me a greater understanding of the archetypes present in modern literature, especially if learnt in his order. The logic of these ideas is sound, as these forms of literature can easily be used as a base for background knowledge to help our understanding of future texts.

Any individual reading literature has surely experienced multiple stories that are either based on or allude to the Bible. Having the Bible be the base of our foundation of knowledge will allow for many concepts to be understood, as the foundations of modern society were originally based upon the morals present in such stories.

On page 66 in the Educated imagination, Frye identifies that “There are all sorts of secondary reasons for teaching the Bible as literature: the fact that it’s so endlessly quoted from and alluded to …”(Frye, 66) that references to the Bible will be a constant theme in majority of literature. Knowledge of the major stories present in the bible will continue to benefit any student for the foreseeable future, as the Christian mythology will remain a powerful force in our culture for years to come. For instance, the story of Cain and Abel contains a strong moral lesson about jealousy and family. Understanding a biblical story like this is the reason why the Bible should be taught first in the spectrum, as much of it provides a solid moral lens through which much literature can be successfully interpreted.

More clearly than the Bible, Greek/Roman mythology helps outline the life cycle that almost always applies to the traditional archetypal hero. With basic knowledge of the Bible we can determine right from wrong and its influence in real life when reading mythology. As the reader we experience this when seeing the actions the hero takes, as explained by Frye when he states, “… the central myth of the hero whose mysterious birth, triumph and marriage, death and betrayal and eventual rebirth…” (Frye, 67), explaining the archetypical story outline of the tragic hero. As an example of the archetype, the story of Hercules starts with the mysterious birth of a being that is half god and half man, with his father famously being Zeus.

Following Hercules’ diverse birth we also know he triumphed over the leader of the underworld named Hades, while also overcoming the betrayal of his future wife who eventually gave birth to his son. In many pieces of literature, and even in movies, we see similar archetypes. Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is an example where we see a hero follow the same general story line as seen in multiple mythologies. Batman is betrayed by his beloved Miranda Tate only to triumph over evil and be born again after making the audience believe his death to be the key to establishing peace in Gotham City. Frye wants the bible as the base of our literary knowledge as it is both the lens through which western society, and the literature produced within should be viewed through.

Frye’s ideas about the order in which fundamental literature should be taught is a good one, and the examples seen within, such as the story of Hercules or more modern art such as The Dark Knight Rises are undeniable evidence that he was correct in his ideas. With the Bible being the first work of literature taught to children, they are raised with a natural understanding of the references and allusions that saturate much of modern literature. As well, when it comes to mythology, we are better able to notice the morals and life cycle that are common archetypes within
literature such as; the birth, triumph over evil, betrayal and rebirth. Provided that, we are able to make and see the connections the Bible and mythology have to real life, putting emphasis on the spectrums importance, as well as the order in which it is taught.