The outcast archetype describes someone who has been banished from a community for actual or perceived misdeeds. Usually, this individual is fated to become a wanderer. Often, society rejects those it sees as different, causing them to feel like outcasts. However, how the person reacts to this treatment can determine whether it has a beneficial or detrimental effect. Being branded an outcast can motivate someone to defy prevailing beliefs and accomplish remarkable things in their life.
While for others, it could cause them to retreat within themselves, preventing them from living a happy life or even causing their death. The archetype of the outcast is represented in the story “The Red Convertible”, by Louise Aldrich, through the character Henry. It is also demonstrated in the story “A Worn Path”, by Adore Welt, through the character Phoenix. Additionally, it is evident in the song “Mad World” through the singer or narrator. In “The Red Convertible”, two brothers named Henry Junior and Lyman, who are members of the Chippewa tribe that live on a reservation, are separated from the rest of society.
On a whim, the brothers purchased a red Oldsmobile convertible and embarked on a road trip. “We embarked on a summer-long driving adventure,” they reminisce. They meandered through Montana’s beautiful landscapes, creating cherished memories along the way. In addition, they encountered Gussy, a hitchhiking Native-American girl, and kindly offered her a ride back to her home in Alaska. Eventually, they returned home so that Henry could commence his service in the Vietnam War as he had enlisted in the Marines. This war was highly controversial and resulted in a significant loss of pride and confidence among Americans when the U.S. faced defeat.
Instead of providing returning veterans with welcoming home parades, Americans rejected them. Vietnam vets were portrayed in fiction, films, and television shows as drug-crazed, psychotic killers – both in Vietnam and back at home. Due to these public perceptions, society shunned the vets, treating them as outcasts and denying them a place within their communities. Very little was done to help the veterans readjust and receive the assistance they needed. Lyman and his family noticed the transformation in Henry upon his return. Lyman recalled, “When he came home…
Henry’s difference was not a positive change, which concerned his family about his future. Their worry stemmed from the lack of Indian doctors on the reservation and their distrust for other hospitals. Consequently, they took no action. To inject some positivity into their lives, the brothers opted to visit Bambina and the Red River. As they conversed and drank beer, Henry ventured into the river’s deep waters and tragically drowned as an outcast. In Adore Welt’s “A Worn Path,” an elderly African-American woman named embarks on a journey.
Phoenix Jackson, an old Negro woman, embarks on a journey from her secluded home in the country to the town of Natchez. Her purpose is to procure medicine for her sick grandson. Throughout her arduous trek, Phoenix encounters various challenges, including her own exhaustion and deteriorating eyesight. She overcomes obstacles such as thickets, deep and still woods, uphill and downhill paths, as well as crossing a creek using a log as a bridge. Additionally, she maneuvers through a barbed wire fence by crawling and creeping beneath it. Traversing a maze-like cotton field and a corn field devoid of clear pathways, she continues her determined navigation.
It seems as though society has erected barriers to exclude the elderly woman. During her journey, Phoenix comes across a white man accompanied by his dog. When she informs him that she is going to town, he condescendingly tells her to go back home, suggesting that she does not belong there. Upon reaching the hospital, the nurse dismisses her as a charity case and lacks sympathy for her grandson’s illness. Despite all the obstacles she encounters, Phoenix persists. In a society dominated by white individuals who hold little regard for African Americans, Phoenix refuses to be deterred by this prejudice.
A character named hydrology continuously returns to undertake a journey to rescue her grandson, as indicated by her name. The song “Mad World” portrays the narrator as a melancholic individual who feels disconnected from society, labeling himself as an outcast. The line “All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces” depicts his perception of others as mundane, while he sees himself as distinct. Everyone else carries on with their ordinary lives while the narrator feels excluded, observing life from an outsider’s perspective due to some perceived transgression against society.
The song depicts the profound impact of a crime on the life of a man, rendering him extremely melancholic. The lyrics “hide my head I want to drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow” reveal his desperate state of mind, where he perceives life as devoid of value and seeks an escape. His statement “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best Vie ever had” confirms his suicidal thoughts, as he longs to end his suffering. Additionally, he implies that these emotions have plagued him since childhood, as evidenced by the lines “No one knew me, no one knew me, Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson, look right through me, kook right through me”.
Childhood was a time of being different, potentially due to a disadvantaged background. The adults regarded the narrator as an outsider, completely disregarding his presence. This feeling of being an outcast has inspired the narrator to write a song, intending to share his experiences with others and possibly offer some assistance. To summarize, all of the previously mentioned characters were regarded as outcasts, despite the different outcomes they faced. In the tale “A Red Convertible,” Henry is shunned by society upon returning from the Vietnam War due to assumed crimes committed.
In the story ‘A Worn Path’, Phoenix Jackson, a poor Negro woman, is depicted as an outcast who faces disrespect and denial from the white community. They try to keep her away and when she does appear, she is belittled. This parallels with the narrator in the song ‘Mad World’ who also experiences a feeling of being an outcast from society. Although we don’t know the exact reasons, we can understand his pain. It is important to understand how people interact with each other in terms of inclusion or exclusion, and how individuals respond to such actions.