Quests: The One Motif to Rule Them All

Of all the literary themes and motifs, only one shines above the rest. This motif has been present in mankind’s first works of literature, and it is fundamental to our own existence. This vital theme is the Quest. Quests are how heroes accomplish their goals; without them, there is no plot. All branches of literature incorporate quests to some extent, and American literature is no exception. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Goodman Brown goes on a quest through the woods at night to get a look at the forces of evil. His quest goal is to observe but not partake in the evil things that occur that night. However, he fails after realizing that all the most pious members of his village are in fact participating in these evil deeds. Failing his quest, he forfeits himself to the Devil. Moving forward from Romanticism to Realism, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a perfect example of the Quest motif. The entire story is Huck Finn’s quest to escape his father and help Jim to freedom. Despite the challenges that Huck faces, like beatings from his father and the manipulating conmen, he is ultimately successful. Finally, the Quest motif is present in the Modernism movement of American literature. In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer goes on a quest to escape the confines of his social class. However, when he chooses to marry May, who he has determined to be a direct manifestation of her class, he fails his quest. Thus, the Quest motif is present throughout Romanticism, Realism, and Modernism – the three major movements of American literature.

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