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MCMAHON, Daniel Jordan. " Maps of Myth-Reading: Utopias as Revolutionary Mythologies "
Article published on 6 June 2004
last modification on 2 November 2004
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Ph. D., 1996. University of Maryland College Park. 1996. 117 p. Chair: Verlyn FLIEGER

DAI, 57, no. 10A, (1996): 4381

“Plato expels the artists from the perfect city in the Republic so that he can keep them from inventing competing mythologies and to ensure his control of the official mythology. In the first utopian work the battle lines between mythologies and their fictional counterparts, utopias, are drawn.

In the introductory chapter I define the vexed terms "utopia," "myth," and "mythology" and establish the theoretical basis of my work. I examine theories of utopia and theories of mythology by such thinkers as Paul Ricoeur, Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, and Karl Mannheim.

Succeeding chapters provide readings of utopias chosen for their explicit confrontation with a dominant mythology. Chapter 2, on William Morris’ News from Nowhere, demonstrates that this work is a product of patriarchal mythology. Chapter 3, on H. G. Wells’ work argues that Wells uses many of the strategies that the utopist can use when trying to replace an inherited mythology.

In "Prometheus Converted: A Reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four," I argue that Orwell radically refashions the myths of the romantic hero, Prometheus, and concludes by having Prometheus convert to the side of Zeus.

Jack London’s The Iron Heel and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are the subject of a single chapter which analyzes the narrative strategy, one I have termed the "recovered text," to create a narrative in dialogue with itself.

The next two chapters are devoted to Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels . LeGuin places two hostile, mutually exclusive mythologies in dialogue with one another—social Darwinism and anarchism. She breaks from other writers by insisting that the utopic-anarchic society stay in constant dialogue with itself lest its mythology become ossified. Swift differs from all of the previous writers in his reluctance to adopt any system. Swift focusses on the education of the individual. Like LeGuin, Swift rejects a static utopia, but he goes further and rejects any discrete utopia, suggesting a more modest personal utopia.

The conclusion returns to the central concerns of the work and argues for their applicability to all utopian texts".

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