A legend is a traditional tale that tells the story of men doing heroic deeds or tells of places where the epic events took place. Sometimes legends are believed to be true as a part of history but the truth behind legendary tales is unfounded (Fontenrose 55). Formally, the legend may be defined as “a story or narrative that may not be a story or narrative at all; it is set in a recent or historical past that may be conceived to be remote or antihistorical or not really past at all” (Brunvand, 112). From the psychological perspective, Brunvard (112) defines the legend as a symbolic tale that represents or portrays the folk beliefs of people in the past, including the values, experiences, culture, and traditions of those people. Although most legends are about men and women, their stories often illustrate the religious beliefs and traditional practices of people belonging to the story. In the succeeding discussion, the mythological status and function of legends will be determined and further explored with the review of Audie Murphy’s legendary story through the interpretive system, monomyth or the hero’s journey, as introduced by Joseph Campbell.
There are different types of legends, especially since the dawn of modern times when the kinds of stories, the functions of these stories, and how they have been transmitted or communicated differently from that of the old days. Today, legends can be traditional, urban, contemporary, or modern. The definition of legend that was previously discussed in the beginning of the text represents traditional legends. An urban legend, on the other hand, may be defined as “an apocryphal contemporary story, told as true but incorporating traditional motifs, and usually attributed to a friend of a friend” (Brunvand 112). Moreover, urban legends are the stories that highlight the fears and worries of people in our modern world. For instance, most urban legends today have horrific themes that tackle dangers that people might get themselves into. Urban legends also represent the conditions in urban communities, thus, the themes of urban legends represent the repercussions of the human condition today. Such real world conditions, like poverty, are incorporated in some urban legends about human trafficking and abductions (McCormick & White 786). Contemporary or modern legends, unlike the traditional ones, are not influenced by paranormal or supernatural themes. Moreover, contemporary legends are set in the real world. Although the themes of traditional, urban, and contemporary legends are different, Green (492) emphasizes that all these types should not be considered as separate kinds because the “contextualization of traditional themes within the urban-industrial environment means only that legend messages keep their importance for modern people.”
One defining characteristics of legend is that it is an oral narrative, which means that a legendary tale is passed from one person to another, from one generation to another, through the word from the mouth. The means of transmitting legends and myths, which is through the oral communication, is the function of these stories. Legends are passed on from one person to another through the word of mouth in order to teach values, culture, traditions, and knowledge to listeners. According to Radcliffe-Brown, legends play an important part in the society that requires conformity among its people (Von Hendy 213). The survival and stability of any society depends on the ability of individuals to conform to laws and rules. Therefore, the state of mind, actions, and belief systems of individuals must be controlled or regulated, and one way to accomplish this goal is to teach or influence on individuals to follow the rules or laws through the series of ceremonies and capture the meaning and value of these practices through legends or myths. Legends enable individuals to imagine and “the exercise of the imagination is fundamental to the development of both the individual ego and its social interesting” (Von Hendy 213). Hand (98) also discussed the importance of any legend in the society. According to Hand, legends provide symbols or icons that “embody the social aspirations of the group, whether these to be embodied in an ideal status quo or in dreams of revolution” (98). Therefore, legends are valuable instruments that affect the status quo and the movement of people in the society.
Due to the influence of legends, it is also sometimes used for political reasons. According to Patai (34), various discussions among scholars point out on legends and myths as being the political instruments. As previously discussed, legends embody religious practices, traditions, and culture, and as the political instrument, they represent ideologies. Legends that represent ideologies “express dramatically the ideology under which a society lives; not only to hold out to its conscience but the values it recognizes and the ideal it pursues from generation to generation” (Patai 34). In addition, legends communicate the state of the society and highlight the condition, by which individuals during that time have lived, including the social disintegration and imbalance, the tensions and conflicts, whether political and social, and the triumphs and sufferings of people in the story. Thus, legends depending if they are historically accurate or not represent the things that happen in reality and because they closely resemble the current events, people sympathize with those being wrong in these legends. As a result, people think about what has gone wrong in these stories and aim to change the course of events by doing something today that would prevent the past wrongdoings and injustices from happening.
To further study the functional importance of legends, we will look into the story of Audie Murphy utilizing the interpretive system called monomyth. Joseph Campbell introduced the monomyth or the hero’s journey, which is a pattern that can be found in legends. The hero’s journey is made up of three stages – departure, initiation, and return. The three stages, consequently, are made up of seventeen elements. The departure involves: (1) the call to adventure, (2) the refusal of the call, (3) the supernatural aid, (4) the crossing of the first threshold, and (5) the belly of the whale. The initiation involves: (1) the road of trials, (2) the meeting with the goddess, (3) a woman as a temptress, (4) the atonement with the father, (5) apotheosis, and (6) the ultimate boon. The return involves: (1) the refusal from the return, (2) the magic flight, (3) the rescue from without, (4) the crossing of the return threshold, (5) the master of two worlds, and (6) the freedom to live (Radoff 231). In myths and legends, the protagonist goes through the three stages in the story. Using the hero’s journey, the story of Audie Murphy will be closely analyzed.
Audie Murphy is a soldier well known because of his servitude during the World War II. At the tender age, Murphy has always dreamed of becoming a soldier. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Murphy then got enlisted in the militaries. However, despite Murphy’s strong desire to be of service for his country, the military did not accept him for the enlistment because he was underaged then. Moreover, Murphy was also rejected because of his physique. Not to be discouraged, Murphy changed his date of birth and got enlisted again. Initially, Murphy became a paratrooper but in spite of his training, he was not deployed into any airborne unit assignment. He was, however, drafted to North Africa as a GI to the Fifteenth Infantry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division (Hearn 87). After several failed attempts with the Marines and the Navy, Murphy finally realized his dreamed with an acceptance from the U.S. Army. Murphy’s dream of becoming a soldier and the attack on Pearl Harbor may be considered as his “call to adventure”, while the difficulties and challenges that Murphy had experienced, including as being rejected many times are labeled as “refusals to the call.” Through the determination, Murphy became the paratrooper and eventually the member of the U.S. Army – “supernatural aid” and “the crossing of the fresh threshold.” Consequently, the challenges that Murphy faced while serving in the army proved his journey to “the belly of the whale.” All these experiences make up the “departure” stage of Murphy’s heroic journey.
The second stage of the hero’s journey is called initiation. When Murphy finally became the part of the U.S. Army, he had to face several challenges. In the beginning, Murphy was unable to keep up with the training health-wise. Because of Murphy’s lack of strength and endurance, his commander let him rest by assigning him to the less strenuous duties. After the so much needed rest, Murphy returned to training and finally completed all the requirements. In the beginning, Murphy was assigned to the rear of the infantry, but, after a while, he was able to prove his skills in the infantry fighting. Later on, he was assigned to the infantry division in Sicily where his career had taken off; Murphy’s “combat career began when the day he watched a buddy die from an enemy bullet, and an enemy die from the bullet of his own” (Hearn 87). After Sicily, Murphy moved along with his colleagues to Salerno, Anzio, Rome, France, and Germany. Murphy received various awards and the recognition throughout their entire journey. Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Medal of Honor, and the battle commission. Among his known accomplishments there were singlehandedly killing 240 Germans and disarming German tanks. After coming home, Murphy was given other awards by his own country. Murphy’s accomplishments in this stage of his hero’s journey represent “the road of trials” and “the meeting with the goddess.”
Although Murphy’s success was undeniable, he also had his doubts. Murphy asked, “When I was a child, I was told that men were branded by war. Has the brand been put on me? Have the years of blood and ruin stripped me of all decency?” (Hearn 87). Murphy’s question palpably represented his doubts about himself and his involvement in the war. At this point, Murphy was still looking for something to either assure him that his actions, despite that they involved killing people, could be justified or give him peace and self-fulfillment. Doubting his self-worth and the purpose in his life, Murphy was in the “woman as temptress stage.” When an opportunity presented itself, Murphy decided to become a Hollywood actor. Murphy’s continuous search for things that would build his career in another industry, especially the one that would make him famous, could be labeled as the hero’s “refusal of the return,” in which the hero was unable to let go of his success and happiness. However, the business was not kind to him. Murphy was not given many film projects, which resulted to the downfall of his career. He was losing his money, and he was not being paid enough for the small roles that he played in the few movies he had been hired in, like Bad Boy, Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage, and No Name on the Bullet. Murphy’s big break came when he had met James Cherry. Cherry negotiated for him to gain a contract with the Allied Artists and Universal Studios. Since then, Murphy was able to obtain the film projects that he had wanted to be a part of with slightly larger or leading roles.
Aside from starring in movies, Murphy also published a book about his life in 1949 To Hell and Back. The book became a bestseller and was later on bought for the film rights. In 1955, Murphy starred in a film version of his book with the same title. The film became a blockbuster hit and was one of the most successful films released by the Universal Studios at that time. Murphy also ventured into songwriting. He wrote various songs in the collaboration with other music producers and lyricists; and his songs were performed by the major country music artists. In addition to his many accomplishments, Murphy was also involved in various causes that supported war veterans. In various events, Murphy talked about his experiences during the war and the difficulties that soldiers suffered the post-war, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, insomnia, and depression. During this time, Murphy was constantly and restlessly looking for other activities that would fill his time and that would make him feel more self-assured and satisfied about his life. In this stage, “the magic flight” and “rescue from without”, Murphy was searching for a deeper purpose because he had written the book, the one that would reveal his experiences and difficulties as being a soldier and a war veteran. Moreover, Murphy wrote the songs that would be performed by country singers and openly talked about the physical and psychological problems that the war veterans experienced.
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Through his involvement in various causes, Murphy was able to expose the problems of war veterans. It used to be that war veterans had been merely celebrated or rewarded, but the impact of the war on their physical and psychological health was often overlooked. Murphy helped to pave the way for the acknowledgment of these problems through his support of his colleagues. Murphy petitioned for the aid from the U.S. government on behalf of all war veterans. Aside from being the instrument and inspiration for change, Murphy’s book was also instrumental in teaching readers not only about the history, but also of the difficulties that the soldiers had to go through. It should be noted that Murphy’s book did not focus on his achievements in the field, but on his experiences as well as his memories of pain and loss, of losing his colleagues during the war, etc. At this stage, Murphy was in “the master of two worlds” and realized the “freedom to live.” In 1971, Murphy died in a plane crash.
Murphy’s story is a historical legend that was about the life of a celebrated soldier and a war veteran. Using the monomyth or the hero’s journey, Murphy’s life was uncovered, specifically his experiences and the events that had occurred at each stage of his departure, initiation, and return. Considering the previous discussions about the function of legends, Murphy’s story appealed to both the social and political value and the purpose of a myth or legend. By exploring Murphy’s life, readers will get a glimpse on the significant parts of history like the World War II, the film industry during the 19th century, and gain an understanding of the various social problems, specifically those that concerned war veterans. Overall, the legend of Audie Murphy, seen through the hero’s journey, proved that legends and myths were instrumental not only in introducing the individual known to be a hero, but also the various events, issues, and situations that heightened the social and political awareness.