The Quest for Self-Knowledge

Emerald-City-580x435The quest is a motif that transcends time and place, stretching across literature from every culture on the planet. The quest motif is so prevalent that Thomas Foster explicates it in the first chapter of his How to Read Literature Like a Professor, explaining that, “The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge” (3). Although not every instance of travel is a quest, when a voyage is a quest, it is critical to character development, and American literature is no different. “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne centers around goodman Brown’s journey into the woods, where he confronts his family, marriage, and religion, ultimately leading him to paranoia and a loss of faith (both literally and figuratively). The quest motif is obvious in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck and runaway slave Jim travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Huck comes to terms with his own identity and deadbeat father on his journey and develops his own sense of morality as he struggles with Jim’s status as a slave. Finally, in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Jake goes on several trips; however, his final trip to Spain alone is arguably the most important in terms of his character development. While on this trip he comes to realize that Brett will never love him as she says she will, and he finally begins to come to terms with his war injury and subsequent body dysmorphia while swimming. A trip changes the scenery surrounding the protagonist, allowing for self examination. As a result, the trip becomes a quest that leads the protagonist to new realizations.


About annawilson17

Junior at Suffield Academy
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