In the present issue of Psychology Today, Pythia Peay, author of America on the Couch, interviews Erel Shalit (excerpted from the interview in America on the Couch):
The hero archetype, as the mythologist Joseph Campbell taught, is common to all cultures. Yet the hero is writ especially large in the American psyche. From Gary Cooper facing down a gang of killers inHigh Noon, to Captain Chuck Yeager (played by Sam Shepherd in The Right Stuff) piloting the X-1 rocket plane to the edge of the atmosphere and becoming the first man to break the sound barrier, it is a myth that animates the telling of our history, and that operates as a background force in all our lives.
What is more—as vividly displayed by Republican candidate Donald Trump, whose invincible, strongman persona has propelled his rise to political power—our hero is an emotional tough guy. Yet according to Israeli Jungian psychoanalyst and author Erel Shalit, author of Enemy, Cripple, and Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path, the modern hero is one who also possesses psychological courage, able to venture into the perilous underworld of the psyche, and to face the shadows of fear, anxiety, or weakness. Indeed, Shalit writes, “the Hero-myth is the central myth of Jungian psychoanalysis,” because for Jung the hero’s “grand opus” concerns the relations with the unconscious. In this interpretation, the “hero goes forth into the netherworld of the shadow, in spite of being threatened by the monsters that lurk in the darkness of the unconscious . . .”
In the following interview, Shalit elaborates further on the psychological function of the three rejected figures that shadow the hero’s outer quest, as well as how heroes are those who go in the opposite direction of convention. We also explore these inner figures as they arise in our nightly dreams and during the therapeutic process (including the transference), as well as the psychological significance of American action heroes.