18 July 2017
DC’s Wonder Woman and Jewett and Lawrence’s American Monomyth
Just because Wonder Woman is a female does not mean that she has to be categorized as a “female hero” or a “heroine”. She may fit a few elements of Murdock’s “Heroine’s Journey”, and she comes closer to Pearson and Pope’s “Female Hero”, but, to the credit of DC writers, she most closely represents Jewett and Lawrence’s American hero, regardless of gender. It is refreshing that DC was able to make Wonder Woman, not a FEMALE hero, but just a hero.
Wonder Woman has no need to break or reconnect with her femininity. She comes from a race of powerful Amazonian warriors on the hidden island of Themyscira. With the unique privilege of never having seen a man, Princess Diana (aka Wonder Woman) does not even have a concept of gender roles, but only sees herself as a warrior and leader of her people.
Jewett and Lawrence explain that the American Hero’s journey must begin with “a disruption of harmony” that “must be eliminated by the superhero, before the Edenic condition can be re-established in a happy ending” (Jewett and Lawrence 170). This Eden actually exists twofold in Wonder Woman– on the island of Themyscira and in Diana’s picture of the rest of the world. Themyscira is portrayed as a lush tropical island, where the women live communally under a just ruler, Diana’s mother. There seems to be no want, and the only strife comes from Diana training to be a warrior against her mother’s wishes. That Eden is disrupted (though not entirely destroyed) by an invading German army looking for Steve Trevor, a downed American pilot. This leads to Diana’s real journey, which is to defeat Ares, the God of War, who she believes is causing World War II. Having grown up in a warless society, she cannot imagine why any people of the same race would willingly kill each other unless a god was forcing them to, leading her to believe that before Ares intervened, Europe must have been a kind of Eden. In this sense, Diana is like both Mary Rowlandson and the nineteenth century pioneers, needing a “locus of evil” to explain the troubles of the world (Jewett and Lawrence 176). Steve Trevor appeals to the audience’s more logical and modern sensibilities, trying to explain that war is caused by evil men, not evil gods. The fact that both of them turn out to be right blends a modern audience’s need for the traditional, visceral monomyth and modern-day psychology and realism.
Jewett and Lawrence use the example of the western novel The Virginian as the epitome of the American monmomyth, and Wonder Woman follows a similar storyline, with the gender roles reversed, of course. In The Virginian, the beautiful young hero “gallantly sweeps [Molly Wood] out of a stagecoach sinking in a river” (Jewett and Lawrence 181). Wonder Woman gallantly (can that word be used for a woman?) sweeps Steve Trevor out of his airplane sinking in the ocean. Jewett and Lawrence explain how this rescue foreshadows the hero’s later redemption of the whole society, and so it is for Wonder Woman. The Virginian is praised for carrying out vigilante justice by a judge and bishop, proving his righteousness (Jewett and Lawrence 182-3). An audience can easily see the justice in Wonder Woman’s vigilantism as well, since both Nazi General Ludendorff and Ares are portrayed as so inhuman and evil that we could not possibly find fault with their deaths.
Perhaps the clearest way that Wonder Woman connects with the American monomyth is that she is the American monomyth. America originally created and perfected the comic book superhero. The Wonder Woman in the 2017 film is certainly not the same one created in the 1940’s comic books, but she has the same traits as any other superhero: extraordinary powers, vigilante justice, secret alter egos, and sexual renunciation (Jewett and Lawrence 190-191). There is even a scene where she is symbolically depicted as the redemptive figure- after saving a small Belgian village from Germans, the villagers gather around her in awe, staring and reaching out to touch her.
And, of course, there is the sexual renunciation. At first, the writers heavy-handedly point out the feminist undertones of the film when Diana explains to Steve that she has no interest in having sex with him because she is able to create much more pleasure for herself on her own. However, once she finally does start falling for him, he must sacrifice himself to save everyone else from a deadly gas, and Diana is left alone, hiding her true identity from the world for years.
In our society, it rare enough for a female to be a hero that it must be addressed during the film in some way. However, DC was able to address Diana’s gender through commentary of 1940’s English society, not modern American society, thus easily opening the door to our acceptance and admiration of Diana, Princess of the Amazons, not as a female heroine, but as an American hero.
Jewett, Robert and Lawrence, John Shelton. The American Monomyth. Anchor Press/Doubleday,
Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins. DC Films, 2017.
“Wonder Woman (2017)”. Wikipedia. Accessed 18 July 2017.
(only used for names and spelling!)