Archetypal Criticism of The Professor and The Madman

Between reading the text The Professor and the Madman written by Simon Winchester and cross referencing my ideas with two other secondary sources, I’m frankly not impressed with the outcome. Both secondary sources were well written and in a fine format also accompanied by plenty of references to the text although, each source solely focused on the heroic quest when applying archetypal criticism. Regardless, using the focus point of the hero’s quest each secondary source failed to acknowledge that our novel, in fact, had two protagonists, therefore, two quests. The first half of chapter two was literally dedicated to explaining why and why not there can be two protagonists and merely finishing with ” Which happens to be just as well, considering – and to reiterate the point- the existence of two protagonists in this story. The first one, as is already clear, is Dr. William Chester Minor, the admitted and insane American murderer. The other is a man whose lifetime was more or less coincident with Minor’s, but who was different in almost all its other respects: He was named James Augustus Henry Murray.” ( Winchester 31).

 

Book cover
The novel I’m reading

 

Hero’s Quest

Be that as it may, I still have more to say about the quest of the protagonists. On the contrary to what Atwood’s Blog has to say about Dr. Minor’s previous life to being put in an insane asylum being dull, I found it much more than that. Dr. Minor was an American citizen who was also a Surgical Captain in the military. Dr. Minor also suffered from an illness which often caused him to lash out wildly (which I will further elaborate on). Overall, this specific protagonist’s story is anything but dull. One thing Atwood’s Blog was not wrong about was the fact that Dr. Minor’s life picks up when called to help with the Oxford English Dictionary, “His life is quite dull before he receives the call to assist in working on the dictionary.” (Atwood’s Blog).

Furthermore, the second protagonist, James Murray, was a very talented child. A born philological, he was mostly self-taught after graduating school at the age of 14. Later in life, he pursued the field of being a headmaster for a school where he met his wife who died shortly after giving birth to their child who also passed. Murray moved on and recruited friends who quickly helped him join the exclusive Philological Society which launched him in the wonderful direction of literary projects which led him to the Oxford English Journal. Murray’s quest is nowhere near as difficult as Dr. Minors yet both paths still crossed.

Neither path follows a typical hero’s journey, yet the outcome is still extravagant and the problems each protagonist faced were all very real. My other secondary source thought otherwise ” at first glance, does not appear to have much in common with an archetypal hero’s journey. This is likely because the book is nonfiction and is written in a rather unique and creative format.” (Archetypal analysis of The Professor and The Madman). They believed they found a parallel in the story that I did not agree with, “The hero’s journey traditionally begins in the ordinary world, where there is a call to adventure, an initial refusal of the call, then the crossing of the threshold into the special world after a meeting with a mentor.” (Archetypal analysis of The Professor and The Madman).

 

OED.jpg
Some volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary

 

Dr. Minor’s Illness

Dr. Minor’s illness is a prime example of a Jungian Archetype. Due to unsettling dreams of Irish correspondents attacking him while unconscious causes him to lash out when awake. “On the night in question, he awoke with a start, certain that a man was standing in the shadows at the foot of his bed. He reached under the pillow for his gun; the man saw him and took to his heels…” (Winchester 19). This dream causes him to run outside and shoot an innocent man he suspected was the one in his room, which made him a murderer. I believe this illness may represent something else such as post traumatic stress disorder or even schizophrenia. The book hasn’t mentioned anything otherwise.

 

Broadmoore insane asylum.jpg
The Asylum Dr. Minor resided

 

Bricks

There’s a lot of mention of bricks in the first chapter of the novel and they appear to symbolize confinement. The novel gave a very lengthy description of the village of Lambeth of blocky and big building everywhere made of brick and the road was made of cobblestone bricks and the tone of the narration was all very sad, like all the citizens of the village were trapped.

 

Lambeth.png
Lambeth Village, London, England

 

“Knowledge is power” ( Winchester 32).

Young James Murray was very smart and outside of school, he sought more and more materials to learn. Murray had “a working knowledge by the time he was fifteen of French, Italian, German, and Greek, he, like all educated children then knew Latin… He taught himself about the local geology and botany; he found a globe from which he could learn geography and foster a love for maps; he unearthed scores of textbooks from which he could take on the enormous burden of history…” ( Winchester 32-33). By his 20’s he was an extraordinary man and he baffled his family with all the information he retained over the years. Like a body builder working on muscle mass, Murray was just doing that intellectually, both instances resulting in power just differently.

Knowledge.jpg

Works Cited

Atwoodcohoon, Author. “Archetypal Analysis of The Profesor and the Madman.” Atwood’s Blog. N.p., 30 Apr. 2017. Web. 12 July 2017.

“Archetypal Analysis of The Professor and The Madman.” English. N.p., 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.

Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016. Print.

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