Gaze, Memory, and Gender in Narrative from Ancient to Modern

by Nelly G. Kupper (Author)
©2018 Monographs XIV, 200 Pages


This book examines the concept of the gaze in the context of narrative fiction. It argues that the gaze in fiction is a tractable factor, identifying the function of characters by way of the gender. The gaze variance and its connection to memory is not new to literary scholarship, but what has been overlooked to date is the fact that the divide exists along the line of gender. The dyad gaze-memory, provided by literary scholarship thus far is erroneous; what emerges instead is a triadic paradigm gaze-memory-gender. The gender divide is reflected in neuroscience, which shows memory processing in man and woman as respectively losing (forgetting) or retaining (remembering) vividness of detail. The discussion focuses on two narratives, one ancient (the Orphic cycle) the other modern (the novel Le Grand Meaulnes) to show that despite the presence of new narrative devices and conventions, the rules of the paradigm are preserved.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Gaze, Memory, and Gender in Narrative from Ancient to Modern
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Anatomy of the Archetype: Gaze-Memory-Gender
  • Chapter Two: The Archetypal Plot: Gaze as an Instrument of the Genders
  • Chapter Three: Keeping an Eye on the Gaze of the Masculine Gender
  • Chapter Four: Memory Patterns in Fiction and Neuroscience
  • Chapter Five: Orpheus’s Gaze Forward: The Metaphor of Forgetfulness, the Promise of Adventure
  • Chapter Six: Ancient Narrative: (Homo)Sexuality and the Masculine Gaze Upon Itself
  • Chapter Seven: Feminine Archetype in the Ancient Plot: Beauty and Beast
  • Chapter Eight: From Ancient to Modern Hero: Recognizable Archetype Patterns
  • Chapter Nine: Modern Narrative, Ancient Design: The Case of Le Grand Meaulnes
  • Chapter Ten: Modern Narrative and the New Law
  • Chapter Eleven: Modern Narrative: Clash Between Ancient and Modern Imaginations
  • Chapter Twelve: Feminine Archetype in Modern Text: Response to an Ancient Order
  • Index

← viii | ix →



I am indebted to many colleagues and scholars who provided encouragement, along with a critical eye in the progress of this work, but most of all to the late Norman Holland, Robert Silhol, Beverly Matherne, John Yiannias, Claire Rose, Cathy Sullivan Seblonka, and Karen Levy, my teacher who first inspired my intellectual pursuits.

My warm thanks go to my family, my two children and my husband, for their unwavering support and patience throughout the process of researching and writing this book, which often took me to faraway places for extensive duration. ← ix | x →

← x | xi →



What is the hero? What does he do? What does he want? Forged in ancient times, the hero emerges in the modern epoch as a fictionalized model, exemplifying specific motives and behaviors, such as adventure, courage, leadership, and victory. In this consensus on the archetype, the timeless definition of the hero has become intuitive to the inheritors of the ancient plot, to both readers and scholars.

And yet, there are narratives, more frequently than one may suspect, where the paragon eludes recognition. Decidedly, in the developments since antiquity, the modern perception, along with the narrative, have undergone great transformation. Kinds of discourse and notions postdating, and in some cases contrary to the ideas of antiquity have entered the narrative. In this book, I propose a philosophical framework that puzzles out archetypal patterns in fiction. The interdisciplinary nature of the proposed framework benefits from the observations of neuroscience—specifically the study of the processing of memory in human biology. In many ways, human biology (neuroscience) and human imagination (fiction) rely on memory: the patterns of memory. Those patterns, recovered from the two disciplines, emerge as undeniable parallels that configure into a fecund triad: Gaze-Memory-Gender. The gaze in fiction appears to be a tractable factor, and it functions in an interrelated fashion with the two remaining components of the paradigm to trace archetypal forms. The gaze furthermore, tied as it is to the ← xi | xii → gender component, reveals a variation in the archetypal pattern between the masculine and the feminine roles in the narrative.

Gaze and Memory are an established pairing in literary scholarship; Gaze and Gender, however, are not. The framework I am proposing introduces gender as an element in the composition of the archetypal pattern, which seems to contain a distinct variance and a necessary collaboration between the masculine and the feminine poles. Introducing gender as a factor to underscore a difference between fictional characters that parallels masculine and feminine biological patterns can invite a storm of controversy. This is already the case in the scientific community where evidenced disparity between man and woman memory processing, demonstrated repeatedly in studies on recall of emotional memories, has evoked strong opposition by a group of neuroscientists that calls for downplaying differences found in the brain. The reasons behind promoting similarities as opposed to divergence, as argued by the group of neuroscientists, are important to examine. Discussion of gender-specific patterns in the archetype could surely be no less controversial. As provocative as the suggestion for dissimilarities may be, however, the interdisciplinary framework demonstrates that the individual idiosyncrasies of the masculine and of the feminine archetypes are not only present in the narrative, but are also quite necessary for the progression of the narrative, even its very existence, in both the ancient and the modern versions.

Gender in the patterns of the archetype also comes into play for the difference between the ancient and the modern view of sexuality. Studies on the history of homosexuality point to prevarication in scholarship on antiquity because of a refusal on the part of some modern scholars to come to terms with the validity of masculine homosexuality in ancient society. The dissimulation inadvertently causes misreadings of ancient narrative such as Orpheus.

This book focuses on two narratives, one ancient (Orpheus), the other modern (the novel Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier), to see how, despite the presence of narrative devices and conventions in the evolving narrative as well as transformation in human perspective, the rules of the paradigm reveal the truth of archetypal pattern. The selection of Alain-Fournier’s work as an example of a modern narrative for analysis under the proposed paradigm was no arbitrary decision. The most important trait of the text, besides its canonic status, is its central theme of memory, in particular as it relates to the protagonist. The scholarship on the novel for over one hundred years has led to continued unresolved contradiction concerning the role of the hero. The application of the new framework will show resolution concerning the patterns of the archetype in this modern text as in Orpheus.

← xii | 1 →


Anatomy of the Archetype: Gaze-Memory-Gender


DO NOT LOOK BACK. The words nudge our attention just barely in the midst of our task of the moment. A nebulous sense of connection to the phrase hovers like a distant ship in a dense fog; it is something familiar, something we know. We continue to focus on our task, vaguely aware of the words that are already perambulating through us, bound on various paths of our memory, sweeping by routine images worn out by daily use, and draw near each one to essay its tenuous connection to the phrase. When no connection is found, we hear ourselves pondering out loud: “Where have I heard these words before”? With the question unanswered, we stop in the midst of the task of the moment, alert suddenly, and now fully aware of the compulsion and intent on completing the connection. We search in our mind, now with effort, rushing through the paths and avenues of our memories. DO NOT LOOK BACK. “I know this from somewhere.” Then suddenly like an old relic from childhood, forgotten deep in the back of a bedroom drawer, we see it clearly as light illuminates the exposed object, and we smile brightly to ourselves with the completed puzzle revealed: “of course, fairy tales, that is where I heard the words.”1

Fairy tales widely make use of the warning not to look back, and even while we content ourselves with completing the puzzle, we are invaded by a sense that another memory is yet to surface, another connection is yet to be identified. This second connection, evoked by DO NOT LOOK BACK, however, is barely felt; it is unfamiliar, distant, and deeply, deeply haunting. “There is something else here…in ← 1 | 2 → these words …,” we query. With no reply provided, we wave off the haunting feeling with our hand, promising ourselves to get back to the thought later, and return back to our task of the moment.

This other memory of the precept DO NOT LOOK BACK, present and unarticulated, dwells obtrusive and deep in the self, in that depth of the self where individual memory merges with the roots of the human experience. Joseph Campbell describes particularly well what that haunting but elusive memory may be: “Since imagination comes out of one biological ground, it is bound to produce certain themes” (Campbell 49). In other words, literary texts manifest those elements that are the most basic to the foundation of the human experience. “The logic, the heroes, and the deeds of myth survive into modern times” (Campbell 4). Those elements in literary texts that may be referred to as archetypal, because of their predictable repetition in various eras and genres of literature, are likely to be patterns in the continuing human epos.

The caution against turning around to look back affirms its significance in the human experience with the ubiquitous presence of the motif throughout centuries. Not only does the precept often appear in fairy tales, versions thereof are found in ancient narratives of early archetypal plots, namely mythology and biblical stories. Scholars, notably alert of the deeply rooted apprehension of turning around to look backwards, have often brought attention to the theme peripherally in the course of commentary on their texts of interest. For example, in his study on Orpheus, John Heath identifies the presence of the motif not only in classical sources such as Homer, but in other cultures, such as North American Indian tradition. Noting its ubiquity, but also its longevity, Heath presents a brief survey of other scholars who also take cognizance of the cautionary paradigm. Each scholarly opinion, however, differs considerably as to the source of the warning against turning backwards. Heath found that D. Sansone, P. Dronke, O. Kern, and C. Bowra (193, note 38), suggest that Virgil (first century B.C.) may have invented the theme, while W.K.C. Guthrie (193, note 39), proposes that the theme comes from the “Alexandrians” (around 331 B.C.).

To add to Heath’s findings about the universality of the warning against looking back, I suggest the study of Theodor Gaster, which is useful in particular for tracing the legacy of the motif to its most ancient roots in human civilization. Indeed, Gaster’s research illustrates that the warning against turning around to look back marks its path not only elsewhere, but considerably earlier than noted in Heath’s commentary. Gaster’s work traces the motif to its origins as a taboo throughout ancient magic, ritual, and legend. According to Gaster, the incantatory adage and the message dictated thereby, extends as far back in the fabric of human history as Babylonian charm, where DO NOT LOOK BACK is a warning to ← 2 | 3 → those who seek well-being. “In Babylonian charm to relieve sickness the patient is given the warning that he must return home with his gaze fixed ahead” (159). Babylonia’s cultural center, according to some experts, dates to the third millennium B.C. Even more interesting is that while the Hittites (1340–1200 B.C.), during exorcism of demons, required the witch to depart at the end of the ritual “without turning around,” (Gaster 159), almost at the same time, Hindu tradition, during the Vedic period (1500–150 B.C.), heeded the same warning for the funeral ceremony. From the scholarship on the subject, we learn that the danger of looking back is prevalent for both those who seek well-being in life and those who seek tranquility in death.

Without settling the emerging debate as to how far back human tradition warns against turning to look backwards, the timelessness and pervasiveness of this theme clearly leads to the conclusion of its unequivocal significance to humankind. Turning around to look back must be avoided. But why is this so? What is so important about DO NOT LOOK BACK to human history that the concept survives the death of cultures and empires, permeates from one nation to another, and persists in imposing itself in human imagination? Active in ancient magic and ritual, the omen against looking back continues into the oral tradition, transcends into written form, and endures into today in the age of technology and pop culture when a quick search on the internet reveals numerous titles of songs, new books, even restaurants that incorporate the omen in one way or another.

Why does looking behind constitute danger in the human conscience? How is looking forward more prudent than looking backwards? Campbell’s interdisciplinary perspective stands on the intersection between the literary and philosophical traditions, which form from human imagination; and human nature and biology, which weave the pattern of human life. Through his proposed framework, Campbell discerns new and daring meanings laced through the narrative, and leads to deeper understandings of written artifacts. Campbell explains that archetypal forms and common literary motifs, such the formulaic phrases repetitive throughout the fairy tale genre, are the imaginative versions of the patterns in human life. As we consider the paradigm offered by Joseph Campbell in which patterns in literary texts reflect human life, the motif of looking back or ahead—the direction of vision—presents us with a most intriguing pattern.


XIV, 200
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 200 pp.

Biographical notes

Nelly G. Kupper (Author)

Nelly G. Kupper is Professor of French and Russian at Northern Michigan University, Marquette. She earned her PhD in Modern Foreign Languages from the University of Tennesee, Knoxville. Her more recent publications include "Obsessively Estranged, Compulsively Creative" in Perspectives on Creativity: Volume 2 (2011), "Daughters Who Remember: the Omnipresent Mother in Nathalie Sarraute’s Enfance, and the Absent Mother in Patrick Modiano’s La Petite Bijou" in Orbis Litterarum (2011), and «Le Piège du discours maternel dans le roman de Mme de Lafayette» in Gradiva, revue européenne d'anthropologie littéraire (2006).


Title: Gaze, Memory, and Gender in Narrative from Ancient to Modern
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216 pages