The American Cain
Wiley, W. Brett
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There is a national archetype based on Cain, the son of the Biblical Adam. The figure,the offspring of R. W. B. Lewis’s American Adam, appears when a character exhibits specificCainian traits and reenacts his life experiences, most notably the murder of a double, either inpursuit of the American Dream or as a result of a failure to attain the opportunity suggested bythe national ideology. There are a number of examples of the archetype, in particular, FrankNorris’s McTeague, Caroline Gordon’s Rion Outlaw, and John Steinbeck’s Caleb Trask. Theevidence of a second national archetype is a significant addition to the study of Americanliterature, providing a necessary addendum to Lewis’s seminal work, The American Adam. TheAmerican Cain, who serves as a representative of the consistent conflict in the country that canoften turn violent, provides perspective on the overt hope and idealism of the figure Lewisidentified in the early writings of American authors and reveals the inherent issues with thedream to which he corresponds.
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