Hero Henry: Heroism and Antiheroism in John Berryman's Dream Songs
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In capturing his own experiences and confronting his own pain, Henry suffers for his readers. In his “Preface to Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman makes a statement to which Berryman certainly would have assented: “You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me” (2201). When a reader does see his or her own life reflected in the work, these words become reality. Just as Henry pays for his father’s transgressive death in a song reminiscent of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Henry becomes our savior as he suffers so that we, too, might be healed. In this sense, the antiheroic elements of Henry’s life are necessary to his heroism. If he was not one of us, he could not save us by leading us back to ourselves in his Songs. Thus Henry’s work of drawing us into his experiences becomes a heroic act as he challenges us to consider our own lives.
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