Daedalus and Icarus
Fun Home, a Novel Depicting the Intricacies of Family Relationships Using Daedalus and Icarus’ Allegory
When Daedalus is Icarus and Icarus is Daedalus
Alison Bechdel structures her graphic novel Fun Home with dense layers of literary and cultural allusions in an effort to understand and contextualize her relationships with members of her family and with the world in which she was raised. She sees her world through the arts that defined characters and stages of her life. Bechdel divides her graphic novel into chapters named for various literary references to create different perspectives and narratives to her father’s death as well as using well-known figures “not only as descriptive devices, but because [her] parents are most real… in fictional terms” (Bechdel 67).
On top of integrating countless allusions and references in the bulk of the graphic novel, Bechdel employs the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus to unite the overarching themes of the work with the characters and the relationships between the characters. Bechdel, however, does not maintain consistency in the allusion as a parallel to her relationship with her father.
In the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son are locked in a tower with hopes of escaping. Daedalus, watching the birds flying around the tower, creates wings for him and his son to escape, using only wax and feathers. The inventor warns his son to be careful of the path he chooses to fly – flying too high would cause the wax to melt and the wings to fall apart, but fly too low and the waves will dampen the wings, rendering them useless. During flight, Icarus forgets his father’s warning and flies too close to the sun, melting his wings and plummeting to his death in the waves below.
Bechdel inverts the roles in the mythical allusion constantly. Her father is often Daedalus, the great inventor who can see something and turn it into something great. However, he is also the one who falls as Icarus, not Alison. But does he fall because he did not take some advice from Alison’s Daedalus? Bechdel portrays herself as Icarus flying above her father, yet allows readers to immediately know that “it was not [Alison] but [her] father who was to plummet from the sky” (4). Bruce Bechdel plays the role of Daedalus, the grand inventor, and Icarus, the one who falls, while Alison plays the same roles differently – Daedalus through the wise warning and Icarus as the child taking flight with the father.
By continuously changing who plays whom in the myth as Fun Home progresses, Bechdel creates a stronger complexity within the relationship between her and her father. The constant and inconsistent reversal of roles in the allusion to the myth of Icarus and Daedalus is necessary in demonstrating the complexity of the relationship between Alison and Bruce Bechdel.
Bechdel introduces her father as Daedalus and herself as Icarus, flying above him in the three illustrations opening the graphic novel. Alison flies above Bruce as Icarus flew above Daedalus. In this instance, Alison and Bruce mirror the myth’s roles of child flying above father. Bruce, much like Daedalus creating Icarus’s wings, allows Alison to fly and gives her the only means of doing so – creating a balance between her stomach and his feet as he lifts her into the air.
Bechdel’s opening scene establishes her father as Daedalus, but also establishes herself Icarus, the child who falls. Alison tumbles to the ground from her position above Bruce, much like Icarus falls to the ocean in the mythical tale. However, Bechdel immediately challenges the visual depiction by contradicting the roles shown with the text inside the image. Bechdel states, “In our particular reenactment of this mythic relationship, it was not me but my father who was to plummet from the sky,” thus equating Bruce to Icarus rather than Daedalus (4). This contradictory juxtaposition of text and image begins Bechdel’s depiction of the complexity of her relationship with her father.
The image of Bruce as Daedalus only grows stronger as Bechdel continues Fun Home. Alison’s father becomes the great inventor and creator in the eyes of Alison. Through the decoration and modification of the family home, Alison sees Bruce as some sort of genius, a man that could “spin garbage into gold,” even “a Daedalus of decor” (6). In restoring the home, Bruce performs, “as Daedalus did, dazzling displays of artfulness” (9). Bruce creates the beauty of the house out of nothing, as Daedalus creates numerous marvels in the tales of Crete.
Bruce Bechdel’s Daedalus creates the mythic Minotaur’s labyrinth within the walls of the Bechdel home. Bechdel occasionally depicts her father as the Minotaur within his own labyrinth of a house to add to the complexity of who Bruce was. In doing so, Bechdel reinstates his status of Daedalus by equating the house Bruce created to the labyrinth. When fearing the wrath of her father, Alison runs through the maze of the house as the children ran through the maze fearing the Minotaur. Bechdel describes the labyrinth in text above an illustration of herself running through the house. Bechdel even notes the difficulties visitors had navigating the home, claiming “visitors often got lost upstairs” (20). By creating a Minotaur, Bechdel can show readers that Bruce is Daedalus, the great inventor of the labyrinth.
In addition to being a creator like Daedalus, Bruce tends to show more attention and love to his craft than to his children. Bruce stops the Icarian games with Alison because he notices that the rug is dirty and a strip of molding is loose, showing that he would rather fix up the house than play with his child. Alison even has to send friends home so she can help Bruce restore the home. Bechdel compares this to Daedalus’s indifference “to the human cost of his projects,” using the inventor’s cow disguise as an example (11). Bruce is seen scaring and beating his children over a fallen Christmas tree and a vase sitting too close to the edge of a table. Bechdel then uses this image of her father to question the mythical Daedalus’s agony upon finding out his son has died – “was Daedalus really stricken with grief when Icarus fell into the sea? Or just disappointed by the design failure?” (12). Daedalus, who continued his flight and created a temple to the god Apollo to honor his son, still continued his flight to safety even though he led to his son’s demise. Many characters in Greek mythology would be too ridden with guilt to even continue the flight, so Alison’s critical view of Daedalus brings the view of her father into a strong critique.
Bechdel makes sure readers know of Bruce’s demise at the very onset of the story. Through the introductory Icarian games, Bechdel makes it clear that “it was not [Alison] but [her] father who was to plummet from the sky” (4). Bruce dies, not Alison, effectively reversing the roles played in the mythic allusion. However, Alison’s status as Daedalus in relation to Bruce’s death remains unclear. One can make the argument that, if Bruce’s death was a suicide, as Bechdel believes, the advice of flying in the middle of the sky is comparable to Alison coming out. Alison comes out as a lesbian and survives while Bruce stays closeted and dies soon after Alison’s outing. If Bruce had followed his daughter’s example, or “advice” in keeping with the Daedalus and Icarus allusion, Bechdel implies she believes he would not have jumped in front of the truck. In this instance, Bechdel paints her father as Icarus and herself as Daedalus.
The final scene of Fun Home depicts the confusion of the mythic allusion wonderfully. Bruce is already in the pool and each image is drawn from a higher vantage point so that the reader is looking down on Bruce. By this point, Bechdel shows readers that Bruce has already fallen, making him Icarus rather than Daedalus. Alison, then, should be Daedalus in keeping with the myth. However, Alison jumps after her father in the pool, creating a second Icarus.
This confusion creates a necessary complexity to the story and within Bechdel herself. Alison wonders, “what if Icarus hadn’t hurtled into the sea” to wonder how her life would be different had her father survived (231). She wonders how he could have survived and how she could live her life to honor him, as if Icarus could have learned to be inventive as his father. In this pondering, Bechdel acknowledges the confusion of the myth and offers a slight explanation as to why it was employed so heavily: “in the tricky reverse narration that impels our intertwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt” (232). Bechdel wants to show readers exactly what her father means to her as a character in a book and as a real man, and encompassing the story with the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, she is able to do so.
Bechdel uses this allusion to beautifully complicate her relationship with her father throughout the novel, as well as express her love for him in an understated and authentic manner. Alison and her family experienced life through art and literature, as depicted in an illustration on page 134, where each member of the family is alone, practicing their arts. By creating a Bruce Bechdel that is understood through the filter of Daedalus and Icarus, Bechdel is reanimating and complicating a father that she is trying to understand. By employing the myth of Daedalus and Icarus so heavily, Bechdel is able to view her father as more than just her father – she is able to take a step away from her own views and evaluate him critically while still creating the complexity and love that her father deserves.
The Symbolism of Myth of Daedalus and Icarus in Deus Ex
What does it mean to be human? As science continues to progress, this question will likely become increasingly difficult to answer. Many people have been able to improve various impaired capabilities thanks to human enhancement technology, which continues to progress, potentially allowing our species to evolve beyond its current limitations, while also raising difficult questions. Before humanity can evolve, potential consequences must be considered, and questions must be asked, questions which are raised by Deus Ex Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011, hereafter referred to as Human Revolution).
Human Revolution is a prequel to the original Deus Ex game (Ion Storm, 2000) which was set in the year 2052, where humans have become heavily augmented cyborgs, briefly touching on the theme of transhumanism, defined by Max More as “Philosophies of life (such as extropian perspectives) that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values”(More, 2013, p.3). Setting Human Revolution closer to the present date allowed the theme to be explored in detail while exploring real-world issues. This was clearly one of the game’s main intentions, as suggested by lead writer Mary DeMarle in an interview (Munkittrick, 2011), who described how she researched the theme prior to writing the game. The game is set in the year 2027, where scientific progress has led to development of artificial organs, known as “augmentations”, capable of greatly enhancing the human body, which have recently become available to mainstream society, allowing people to overcome serious disabilities and injuries, and to augment themselves voluntarily, increasing their physical and mental abilities. Due to the high price of augmentations and the need to take the expensive drug “Neuropozyne” to stop the body from rejecting the augmentations, only the rich can afford to be augmented, causing tensions to rise between those who view augmentation as the future of humanity, and those opposed to it, comprising of people who view it as immoral, or people who cannot afford it, who fear becoming obsolete as the upper class evolves. The issue is presented to the player throughout the game using semiotics found in the game’s character design, gameplay and worldbuilding.
The player controls Adam Jensen, Chief of Security at Sarif Industries, one of the world’s main augmentation manufacturers, who’s views on augmentation are never specified. At the start of the game, Adam is nearly killed in a terrorist attack on the Sarif Industries headquarters, and becomes heavily augmented by his boss, David Sarif, to save his life. In addition to this, Sarif takes advantage of the situation by equipping Adam with advanced experimental military augmentations, despite Adam having never asked for it. Adam is an effective choice for a player character from a ludic and narrative perspective. Having a heavily augmented protagonist in a game focused on transhumanism is thematically relevant, while allowing fun and varied gameplay, which remains relevant to the game’s premise.
Using the player-character semiotic structural model proposed by Daniel Vella (Vella, 2014), the elements used to construct Adam’s character can be divided into two main categories: The static mimetic elements, and the dynamic mimetic elements. Static mimetic elements, according to Vella are “fixed (or relatively fixed) facts regarding a character” (p. 5), including name, physical appearance, possessions, etc., which can be used to convey information to the player about the character. Dynamic mimetic elements, on the other hand, are actions performed by the character, physically or verbally, initiated by the character without player input (character action), or initiated by the player, (player action). In Human Revolution, most of Adam’s actions are performed by the player, including many of the character’s narrative choices, which are decided by the player in dialogue choices. The choices the player makes, ludic, and narrative, define Adam’s character. For example, the outcome of the narrative decision at the end of the game can act as a signifier to what Adam’s views on augmentation are, whereas a ludic choice such as sneaking past enemies rather than engage in combat could suggest that Adam believes his combat augmentations to be unethical. The player can keep Adam’s views consistent throughout almost all of the entire game, as it is possible to play through the story without killing a single NPC, with the exception of boss battles, which were one of the few aspects to be frequently criticised by the public (Metacritic, 2011). Boss battles aside, the player is responsible for shaping Adam’s character, so the player is forced to think about their own views on the ethics of transhumanism when shaping Adam’s views. This can all be applied to the MDA Framework (Hunicke, LeBlanc, Zubek, 2004), which divides games into 3 design components: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. In Human Revolution the base mechanics such as shooting, sneaking and levelling up combine to create a dynamic where the player is free to choose their own playstyle, which defines Adam’s character and views, which has an influence on the game’s main aesthetic, the narrative. The only problem with the ludic freedom given to the player is that some players could potentially play the game in an inconsistent manner, for example killing everyone Adam encounters during gameplay, while being as sympathetic as possible in the narrative, which would be a case of Ludonarrative Dissonance, a term invented by Clint Hocking (Hocking, 2007) for when the gameplay conflicts with the narrative. While a way to avoid this problem would be to restrict the player’s decisions, the freedom given in Human Revolution is essential in allowing players to explore their views on the game’s themes, and while some may play the game in a non-serious manner, many will think about their views while experiencing the story, and have their views reflected when making ludic and narrative decisions. It is these players who benefit the most from playing the game.
Before forming their own views, the player must understand the topic, by being exposed to various viewpoints, and witnessing different consequences of augmentation. As Adam spends the game searching for the people behind the terrorist attack, he encounters various characters and factions, witnessing the impact of augmentation on their lives. Throughout the game, the player can gain a knowledge about the game’s world, factions and conflicts by paying attention to the exposition conveyed through dialogue, as well as by listening to news reports played on in-game televisions and reading newspapers and books found throughout the game world. Mieke Bal writes (Bal, 1994) that signs convey meanings which are interpreted to create second meanings. In the case of Human Revolution, the sources of information serve as signs which convey information about the world, which is the first meaning, with the logical implication of the information being that there is a significant conflict between contrasting views, which is the second meaning. This contrast is also conveyed through signs found in the visual style.
While exploring some the more privileged areas such as the Sarif Industries and Tai-Yong medical headquarters, the notion of a “Cyber Renaissance”, as described by Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête (Schramm, 2010, p.1), is enforced by the aesthetic, reinforcing the view that humanity will continue to evolve and improve. The reason, according to Belletête, was that the scientific innovation of Human Revolution parallels the Renaissance era’s discoveries. The architectural style of many in-game buildings resembles that of the renaissance, particularly Adam’s apartment, where the design around the windows were based on elevation plans for old European cathedrals, according to Belletête. In addition, many characters wear modern attire with elements reminiscent of Renaissance, including puffy sleeves, and Renaissance patterns. Inside the office of David Sarif, Adam’s boss, a copy of the Renaissance painting The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Nicolaes Tulp (Rembrandt, 1632) can be found on the wall, depicting medical professionals analysing the muscles inside a body’s arm. In Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of semiotics, explained by Frédéric Seraphine (Seraphine, 2016), signs are classified as icons, indexes, and symbols. Human Revoulution’s Renaissance imagery would be classified as an icon, signifying the renaissance through visual similarity. Since the renaissance is frequently associated with innovation due to it being the transition period between the middle ages and the modern period, the renaissance can be classified as a symbol, as it signifies innovation and discovery, without any visual similarity. All these signs combine to enforce the notion that 2027 is a year of great innovation, a new renaissance.
This contrasts directly with the less privileged areas of the game, negatively effected by augmentation, particularly Lower Hengsha, where the atmosphere is dark and claustrophobic due to the high concentration of buildings and the sky being blocked off by the city’s upper layer, with the architecture resembling a more traditional cyberpunk environment, creating a dystopian atmosphere. The contrast between the “cyber renaissance” and the dystopian future is emphasised by the game’s colour scheme, with the dominant colours being black and gold, which was intentional according to game director Jean Francois Dugas, who said that “the black aspect of the game refers to the dystopian world, cyberpunk – people in suffering and things like that. The gold aspect represents a bit of hope – and society, with augmentations, a promise of better selves” (Kolan, 2010, p.2). The emphasis on gold and black is apparent as the game originally released with a gold colour filter applied to the game, giving the lighter colours a gold hue, contrasting with the game’s darker colours. The only downside is that a heavily stylised colour scheme could feel out of place in a game with an otherwise realistic visual style, which the developers may have realised, as the filter was significantly toned down in the Director’s Cut release of the game (Eidos Montreal, 2013).
Another sign used throughout the game is the frequent referencing of the Icarus and Daedalus myth, in which Daedalus creates wings to escape Crete, but Icarus flies too close to the sun, causing his wings too melt, resulting in him falling to his death. One of the game’s antagonists, Hugh Darrow, the creator of augmentation who regrets his invention, explains that he views Humanity as Icarus, and himself as Daedalus, watching his child flying too close to the sun. Alongside this, the game’s trailer depicts Adam using wings to fly towards the sun, which quickly burn away, while one of the unlockable augmentations is called “Icarus Landing System”, and the title of the game’s main theme is “Icarus”. The Icarus references act as signs which convey an image of a man flying too close to the sun and falling, which, due to the game’s setting, can be interpreted as a sign that Humanity is evolving at an unnatural pace, and if it continues, the consequences could be dire. Despite this being a clever way to convey a message, the interpretation relies heavily on the player’s general knowledge, so a player unfamiliar with the myth would be unlikely to make the correct interpretation.
Another possible interpretation, should the interpreter be familiar with the myth, is that the developers could be biased towards a negative view on transhumanism, because as mentioned previously, the Icarus references convey a notion of augmentation being the potential end of humanity. While this assumption would not be unreasonable, something that needs to be considered is the previously mentioned “cyber renaissance” aesthetic. The game would not include an aesthetic which enforces the notion of great innovation if the developers wanted to create a game biased towards the opposite point of view. In the previously mentioned interview (Munkittrick, 2011), lead writer DeMarle stated that “I’ve seen the potential and the incredible allure of human augmentation. At the same time a lot of my research into the dangers of experimentation and unregulated industries has made me understand the other side of the debate” (p.1). The lead writer clearly sees both sides of the debate, both of which are reflected throughout the game. Some games are limited to a specific view points, which can negatively effect the message of the game, for example Assassin’s Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal, 2012) which was criticized for this reason (Shaw, 2015), but Human Revolution succeeds in telling a story for a neutral viewpoint, while exploring different sides of the Debate raised by the game, granting the player freedom to think about their perspective on the issue.
The expression of both sides of the augmentation debate throughout the game allows the player to understand different perspectives which they are forced to think about when making ludic and narrative decisions, especially the final decision at the end of the game, where Adam is responsible for the future of humanity, where each decision strongly reflects the player’s view. Ultimately, the game serves as a critique on the direction our society is likely heading towards, with the main message being that humanity must be careful with its future decisions, which could result in the success, or end of our species. Either way, the future will likely result in conflict between opposing views, and while Human Revolution successfully entertains its audience, it also serves as a serious game which makes the player contemplate serious issues.
Comparing the Portrayals of Theme of Ambition and Failure in Literary Works
‘Icarus is a hero because he is ambitious and successful; however, since he is unaware of consequences from disobedience he may also be considered a failure.’
Icarus wants to be ambitious and successful but he is unaware of the consequences. In Flight 063 by Brian Aldiss in stanza five, Icarus starts to fly closer to the sun. “Up, up” is repeated. Icarus flies “up, up” after he jumps off the cliff on his wings made of wax and feathers. Icarus is ambitious and he finds himself successful. When people think of ambition they picture someone who is outgoing and often successful. That person feels like they are on a cloud going “up, up”. Icarus flying close to the Sun was just a silly limitation to him. Little did he know this would melt the wax on his wings and he would fall to his death. Ambition comes with “limitations”. Although ambition requires going out of one’s comfort zone limitations and boundaries should not be crossed. Limitations are restrictions or boundaries that are not meant to be crossed. When Icarus flies further from the ground up to the sun he begins to unheed his father’s instructions. He thinks that ambition is fun and rewarding. It is not always that way. There are consequences, and he fails to notice them so he falls into the water.
To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph
Ambition success and failure. In To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph by Anne Sexton in lines nine through twelve, Icarus is wondrously tunneling into the sun. People tend to admire celebrities, influential people, and heroes. “Icarus’s wings deserve to be admired”. He has ambition and courage with endless possibilities in mind. Icarus is successful and completes the idea of flying to safety. As Icarus continues to soar through the sky, he flies closer and closer to the sun. He is out of control “wondrously tunneling into that hot eye”, the sun. The sun resembles Icarus’s goal he wishes to meet the line of god and man. Then he reached the melting point of the wax. Icarus “fell back into the sea” after his wings melted from the sun. Icarus risked his life to try to get to safety and it is the thought that counts.
Musee des Beaux-Arts
Failure is important for ambition, never failing will never know what to fix. In Musee des Beaux-Arts by W.H. Auden in lines fourteen through seventeen, the townspeople do not recognize Icarus’s success. Icarus started as being captured to trying to get to safety but he failed and everyone “turns away”. Tfhis is not seen as an accomplishment to any of the townspeople. It is seen as a “disaster”. No one seems to notice or care. They seem to just mind their own business. Icarus failed. Not everything someone does is going to end with success. Especially taking risks. Even though Icarus failed it is not considered an important event. The failure is not what is important it is about the motivation it took him to get there. Taking risks comes with chances of success and failure. In the end, failure helps move people forward.
Depicting the Conclusion of Daedalus and Icarus in a Painting
The interaction between the two is a small one but an important one. He is a random man that happened to be around a pretty woman working on her garden. He stops to chat with her for a bit and maybe see if she has work for him to do to earn money. The interaction helps develop the story’s theme of taking risk because he is a completely random strange man who she does not know. She opens up to him not knowing what could happen. She took a risk. The painting’s theme is how people don’t care about others tragedy when they are not affected by it. This is also the ending of the story is much longer and includes the details. If the painting also showed Daedalus’s response, then the message would be different. The theme of the story is how back in the day, the gods did not like it when humans tried to act like them by overpowering their usual limits. In ancient Greek culture, acting like a god was often severely punished. That is why icarus died, him and his father were overpowering human limits.
The painting’s theme would go more towards the story’s theme than the original painting theme. Daedalus would earn his lesson and it would show his guilt for overpowering human limits.is about a woman who goes insane after staying in her house for too long. This creates mystery in many different ways. It leads to her going insane after a while. The story includes many forms of mystery. For example, the narrator states in the beginning This line creates mystery because you wonder what she feels. It make us wonder what she is talking about.
The story includes mystery throughout the entire story. In the text the narrator e wall-paper. This line is in the middle and creates even more tension and mystery because she keeps talking about how the wallpaper is bothering her. This really makes you wonder why she is insane and hates the wallpaper. The story also includes mystery and tension towards the ending. In the text it states This creates mystery by making you wonder what she means and why she even thought about this. In conclusion, the story creates mystery and tension throughout from the beginning to end. The narrator talks about the wallpaper and how she’s there is someone inside of the wallpaper. She tears it down and goes insane. This is a very mysterious thing to add in a story.
The Image of Icarus in the Modern Literature
In “Musee de Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden, “Flight 063” by Brian Aldiss, and “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph” by Anne Sexton, Icarus is a hero not because he is always successful but because he is determined, hardworking, and an inspiration to others.
Icarus having strong determination proves that when someone has a goal they want to achieve they become ambitious and work hard to achieve their goal. In stanza 4 of Brian Aldiss’ “Flight 063”, Icarus is jumping off the cliff before he starts to fly. The poet uses the words “his cliff-top jump” to show how passionate Icarus is about flying to the sun. This shows ambition because Icarus is so eager to show off his wings which he himself constructed. Icarus’ “glorious sense of life imperiled” shows that even though flying to the sun is dangerous Icarus still wants to show people he can do it. These words show that Icarus is persistent in what he wants. “Time fell far below, every day” shows that flying is his passion.
Icarus being an inspiration to others proves that even though people do fail it’s all about the impact they make in the world and other people’s lives. In lines 7-12 of Anne Sexton’s poem, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”, Icarus is flying high in the sky towards the sun. In the poem, the author uses words like “think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well” to show that Icarus is watched by others. The viewers want to be as ambitious as Icarus and achieve their goals like him. The poet uses the phrase “admire his wings” to signify that people look up to Icarus. Icarus has so much passion for what he does and the people envy that. People start to notice even though Icarus is falling in the end he is not a failure. Icarus achieved the goal of flying and that’s what counts. The townspeople saw Icarus as being victorious through his determination.
Icarus’ strong will power proves that the end result doesn’t matter as long as you work hard and push yourself through the hard times. In lines 17-21 W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux-Arts”, Icarus is falling into the ocean while everyone else is still working. The poet uses the words “it was not an important failure” to show that although Icarus did fall he did succeed in flying. This shows that Icarus is the perfect example of a hero. Icarus is an imperfect human but still can encourage others through his triumphs and failures. In the poem, the words “the sun shone as it had to” prove that one mistake does not define what kind of person Icarus was. Even though Icarus failed he did attain the ability to fly and that was an accomplishment. We should always push ourselves to be great like Icarus but in the end, our failures are what help us to learn. Icarus falling was “something amazing” to the spectators. It showed that someone so committed to something actually tried to accomplish their goal. I believe the people were encouraged by Icarus because he showed them that it’s ok to take risks. Icarus is not a hero because he achieved his goal of flying to the sun but because he tried his hardest and believed in himself.
Icarus in the Poem by Edward Field as an Image Related to Present
In his poem, “Icarus”, Edward Field creatively expresses the myth of “Icarus and Daedalus” in a modern context, detailing Icarus’ life after he was believed to have drowned. Feeling that he has fallen from greatness to being average, Icarus continuously tries to fix his wings so he could fly to greatness once more. Realizing the truth of his averageness, Icarus wishes that he had just died a hero instead of living. Through the manipulation of modern diction and dreary imagery, Field develops a pitying tone to express the effect of continuous disappointments on human motivation.
The field employs modern diction to illustrate the contemporary setting Icarus now resides in. Throughout his writing, he uses terms that are specific to the present, with phrases like “gray respectable suit”, “front yard” and “commuter trains”. This contemporary diction emphasizes the fact that Icarus is no longer mythical and grand, but rather, part of the monotonous story of a life like any other citizen, in order to stress the irony of how Icarus believed he was heroic and was a fallen hero, but in truth, he was average all along, accomplishing nothing but disobeying his father. Icarus cannot go against suburban social norms, thus resorting to conforming to society, repressing Icarus’ true ideals. This description of normalcy ordinary readers are familiar with achieves Field’s purpose of illustrating themes of how failure to achieve tall dreams results in becoming jaded, living in the vicious cycle of failure and demoralization that is all too familiar in contemporary society.
Describing Icarus going through multiple trials trying to adapt to mediocracy, Field expresses Icarus’ refusal to believe he was anything else but insignificant by detailing the image of Icarus “constructing small wings” to fly “to the lighting fixture on the wall”. As time progresses and with each and every failure, it is apparent to readers that Icarus’ goals keep diminishing in grandeur, from desiring to reach the sun to just reaching the light on his ceilings that acts as a poor substitute for the sun, paling in comparison to the vibrancy of the sun. Continuing to fail in a goal so small, Icarus’ self-confidence shatters and he wishes he had drowned instead of having to live a life resigned to mediocrity. Thus, Field successfully depicts Icarus’ resentment of his ordinary life in order to express that even someone that is seemingly remarkable can get caught in the world’s grasp of failure and hopelessness.
Using modern diction and dreary imagery, Edward Field’s poem retells the original myth of Icarus’ fate to a realistic one, employing a pitying tone, where modern readers are able to relate with Icarus’ constant failures and disappointments, altering his ambitious nature to one that is bitter towards the human society around us that kills the ambitions we hold that differentiates ourselves from the norms. In the end, we too wish that we had drowned trying to succeed instead of burning out due to perpetual disappointments.
Portraying the Myth About Daedalus and Icarus in the Modern World
Myths are known to be part of every society, they include stories of gods, origins, and like most myths, they teach a moral lesson. In Chapter 8 of How To Read Literature Like A Professor, Foster briefly mentions the Greek myth of “Daedalus and Icarus”, in which a boy falls into his death due to his own disobedience. To this day, there have been many movies made that contain a modern-day parallel similar to that of the myth of Icarus. In the movie Finding Nemo, the young fish Nemo disobeyed his father as an act of rebellion, but it resulted in Nemo getting kidnapped. Aside from both the myth and the movie containing a similar exigence, audience, and constraints, they also contain an authority figure that tells the young characters what not to do, an act of willing disobedience, and lastly a loss, all of which make these two works a parallel.
The myth of Icarus takes place on the island of Crete where the unruly King Minos is in charge. One day Minos ordered Daedalus, an ingenious inventor, to build him a maze and he agreed only to find out that the labyrinth contained a Minotaur that fed on men and women. When he found out about this, Daedalus wanted to flee the island with his son, Icarus, but King Minos didn’t permit this and kept them as royal prisoners. Day and night, Daedalus worked on his greatest invention that would get them out of Crete, which turned out to be two pairs of wings made out of feathers and wax. Icarus at first was skeptical about his father’s invention and didn’t want to leave, but as fathers do, he gave him strong words of encouragement. Before they set off, Daedalus warned Icarus to “Above all, don’t fly too high! Don’t fly too close to the sun!” Once they set off, Icarus’ enthusiasm got the best of him and he tried to go higher than the sun. Sure enough, his wings melted, and Icarus fell into the sea and drowned.
In the movie Finding Nemo, Nemo lives with his overprotective father who like any parent, only wants what’s best for him and wants to keep him safe. One day, during a class trip, Nemo and his friends go off on their own towards the end of the reef and play a small, childish game of who could swim the farthest to the open sea. Nemo’s dad quickly steps in before Nemo could swim out. His dad starts yelling at him saying that he isn’t ready to be going out on his own. Nemo takes what his father says to heart and makes him furious. Soon after, as his father isn’t looking, Nemo swims off to the open sea towards a boat. As Nemo is coming back towards the reef, a scuba diver comes from behind him, puts him in a bag, and swims off back to the boat. As the movie progresses we find out the Nemo was taken captive in a fish tank and soon to be given as a gift to a reckless child.
In both the myth and the movie, they contain three elements that make them a parallel. They both contain an authority figure that warns the young characters about certain dangers, an act of willing disobedience, and lastly a loss. In the Icarus myth, the authority figure would be his father, Daedalus, who told him to not fly too close to the sun because he knew what would happen if he did. In the movie, Nemo’s dad was the one who told Nemo not to swim off to the sea. Both Icarus and Nemo ignored their father’s warnings and decided to disobey which led to two losses. In the myth, Icarus dies and in the film, Nemo gets kidnapped.
In addition to the myth and the movie having similar elements that make it a parallel, they also contain a similar exigence and intended audience, but different constraints. The purpose of the myth and the movie was to teach a lesson to younger audiences about the consequences that come from disobeying an adult. As mentioned, the myth and story’s intended audience are young people, seeing as how they are the ones who would benefit the most from the lesson. For the myth of “Daedalus and Icarus”, some constraints include that the myth could have been changed because, during that time, everything was told through storytelling. As a result, not everyone heard the same version. It could also be that not many people knew how to read, so there was no way of knowing the story. Some constraints of the movie could be that not everyone has seen the movie, or not everyone could afford to watch it. This rhetoric also makes the Icarus and the film a modern-day parallel.
In conclusion, the myth of “Daedalus and Icarus” has been portrayed in many ways. One example is the 2003 children’s film Finding Nemo. Both of them contain an authority figure who warn the young characters about certain dangers, the young characters ignore them and as a result, it leads to a severe loss. The rhetoric of the myth and the film also plays a role in the parallelism. In the end, the use of myths in other literature, are used to make our experience of literature as readers more meaningful and to help us make connections with modern real-world stories.
Icarus in the Poem Falling and Flying by Jack Gilbert
Greek mythology is one of the most popular fields of study. Many works of artists and poets have been inspired by Greek myth. The myth of Daedalus and Icarus is one of the most studied Greek myths in English literature and many poets have reflected on it. The myth tells the story of a man, Daedalus, who tries to escape the island of Crete along with his son Icarus. Daedalus was a talented craftsman and was known for his famous work. Daedalus created wings from feathers and wax for Icarus to help him escape. He warned him not to fly too high to avoid close contact with the sun as it will melt the wax. But the young Icarus did not listen to his father’s advice and flew too close to the sun where he fell into the sea. Although Icarus has been recognized for his failure to keep his father’s promise in almost every literature work, the poem “Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert proposes a contrasting perspective that identifies him as an individual with big accomplishments. Gilbert’s poem is distinguished amongst the other poems as it presents a different idea, Gilbert argues that Icarus did not fail but he’s time just came to an end. Gilbert’s use of examples has enforced the concept that everything comes to end, and the accomplishments should never be forgotten.
One of the biggest achievements that are usually overlooked is the freedom that Icarus felt as he flew. As Icarus flew in every direction he wanted to and every time he flew higher, he was enriched with the freedom that he was lacking. Most readers of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus focus more on the ending and forget how Icarus succeeded to escape and gain his liberty. Gilbert implies that what we don’t forget is that Icarus fell “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew”. Gilbert stresses the fact that Icarus flew, and his failure often obscures his success of flying in the retelling of the myth. His failure overshadows his glorious triumph. As Gilbert points out to the readers that Icarus “also flew”, he affirms his rise and rejects his failure. We often underestimate the importance of something because we’re provided it. But it’s not like that in Icarus’s case, he lost his freedom and came to realize how valuable it was when he lost it. Once he was able to fly again and regain his freedom, he became aware of his accomplishments and nothing mattered to him after that. When Icarus was restored with the sense of release and discharge, he was not afraid of falling or failing. Falling was not a failure for him but a victory. Our memory tends to favor flaws and errors over victory. Flying from the prison with wings of feathers and wax was a triumph for Icarus but all that we remember first is less than what Icarus accomplished or what Daedalus has invented. Icarus was able to achieve his freedom in the form of flight.
The poet’s use of examples draws the reader’s attention to the accomplishments of Icarus and makes them focus less on his flaws. In the second line, Gilbert makes a comparison between an ending love and Icarus’s fall and shows the similarities associated with them: “It’s the same when love comes to an end”. When a relationship comes to end, people immediately search for any reason that had caused it to end. Even if a relationship ends, the beautiful moments of the glory love will forever last and thus should be admired. The same principle applies to the myth of Icarus. He is constantly blamed for not listening to his father and the audience is attracted to his flaws more than his glories. Gilbert explains that if anything is worth doing, it doesn’t matter if it was done in the wrong way but what’s important is that it was done. Gilbert highlights this message in the line “but anything worth doing is worth doing badly” (lines 6-7). The poet discusses a failed marriage through imagery to validate that Icarus had just come to the end of his triumph. Gilbert describes the scenes in every detail to enhance the memories that the married couples shared together regardless of their failed marriage, the memories they shared together can never be wiped or removed: “like being there by that summer ocean on the other side of the island while love was fading out of her” (Gilbert 8-9).
Another accomplishment of Icarus that is often neglected is his ability to fly really high to reach the sun which demonstrates his strength and wisdom. Every time Icarus flew higher and higher, he was overjoyed with his ability to reach that point. Icarus flew really high and close to the sun knowing that he could lose the shape of wings and die. He was impressed by his capabilities and did not wish to stop flying higher even if was going to cost his life. Icarus’s desire to rise and fly higher remarks his glory and his falling is interpreted to be the end of his triumph “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph”. (Gilbert 24-25). The image of the sun has a deeper meaning that we often don’t notice, it’s a symbol of a higher entity. Although Icarus fell to the sea as he got really close to the sun, he was still able to fly and reach a high position close to the sun. We are misled by the reasoning the most people refer to which is Icarus ignored his father’s advice that is not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus’s triumph has ended when he was close to the sun, but he has proven his accomplishments as he escaped the Crete and reached the sun with wings made of feathers and wax. Gilbert’s use of Metaphoric devices constructs the concept, that nothing beautiful will last forever and everything will eventually come to end. He compares Icarus’s triumph to the stars, he shined brightly as he flew but couldn’t sustain his brightness forever just like a star: “the stars burn so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you they would never last” (Gilbert 10-12). When we look at the stars, we are astonished by their brightness and therefore value its appearance. The poet suggests that we should see Icarus’ accomplishments in the same way we observe the stars.
In conclusion, the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus is commonly examined with a negative view and mostly concerned with Icarus’s mistake of getting nearby the sun when he was warned by his father not to. The poem “Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert presents a controversial idea about Icarus’s ending through his writing about a lost relationship. He encourages the reader to focus on the good and not to look for flaws and errors that caused a particular thing to end. He engages the reader with the beautiful memories of the two couples that they had once shared together to reinforce that the glory of their love will always last and will never be forgotten. Although he’s describing a broken relationship, he doesn’t add any bitterness to the poem to eliminate any sense of negativity. Through the use of a real example, the poet is able to promote his message and that is, we should remember the rise of Icarus and not his fall. Icarus’s accomplishments are greater than what we can see. Icarus was in prison and didn’t know how it felt to be free but was able to restore his freedom and do what no one has ever done before. Icarus flew so high from wings made from feathers and wax; he triumphs end at a place nearby by the sun, this is valuable as he was able to reach a high place like the sun.
A Modern Spin of Icarus’ Story, Portraying People Trying Desperately to Succeed in Life
While many people are happy living their routine lives, there are still those who just desperately crave an escape from their daily lives. Edward Field demonstrates this idea in his poem Icarus. Field takes the myth of Daedalus and Icarus and puts a contemporary spin on it. He places Icarus in an urban society and shows his dull life after the events of the myth. Field uses allusion to the Icarus myth and the setting of Mr. Hicks’ (Icarus’) urban life to portray the futile struggles of people who desperately want to succeed in life.
The setting of the poem primarily focuses on Mr. Hicks’ suburban home and life near a city. The poem takes place here because this is the lifestyle for many average people. Mr. Hicks is living his miserable life amongst other ordinary people. This is especially devastating for Mr. Hicks because he so desperately wants to fly away from his menial existence. At the end of the second stanza Mr. Hicks calls his existence “…The middling stature of the merely talented.” While being called talented might be a compliment for most people, it is an appalling insult to Mr. Hicks. This is because Mr. Hicks craves success in his life. The fourth stanza furthers this idea by describing how Icarus “Rides commuter trains” and “Serves on various committees.” This lifestyle is extremely dull and ordinary to Mr. Hicks, who wishes that he can fly away and become successful. The use of setting in this poem establishes the depressing lifestyle of Mr. Hicks and his futile quest for success.
Field also alludes to the Icarus myth many times throughout the poem to add to this idea. Field makes a significant allusion in third stanza where he talks of Mr. Hicks in his workshop. Mr. Hicks “Constructs small wings and tries to fly…Fails every time and hates himself for trying.” Just like Icarus, Mr. Hicks keeps trying to soar to greatness but cannot succeed. Mr. Hicks remains stuck in his small workshop with dreams bigger than himself. Another allusion to the myth occurs in the last stanza where Mr. Hicks “Wishes he had drowned.” This references to when Icarus supposedly drowned at the end of the myth. This is significant because it shows how Mr. Hicks would rather have died than be cursed to his suburban lifestyle. Mr. Hicks is a constant failure and will always be haunted by his distant mythical memories of success. This leads to a fate worse than death for Mr. Hicks. The use of allusion in the poem furthers the idea of Mr. Hicks’ determination and failure to get out of his small workshop.
Edward Field’s poem Icarus provides an interesting follow up to the classical myth of Daedalus and Icarus. He uses setting and allusion to reveal the struggles of those who crave success and glory, but get nothing but failure. This poem will always remain relevant to inspire those who do not desire the same fate as Mr. Hicks.
Listening to Your Elders: Icarus’ Story Told by Ovid and Apollodor
“Travel between the extremes.” This line from the story of Daedalus and Icarus, loosely translated from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, describes the lesson learned from the tragic story and its infamously tragic character, Icarus. It was exactly this that Icarus did not do; rather, he flew higher and higher with his wax wings, constructed by his father Daedalus, and in a show of hubris he flew too close to the sun and so his wings melted and he plunged to his impending death in the sea below. Although Edith Hamilton’s Mythology prefers to recount Apollodorus’s telling of the story, both Ovid and Apollodorus are successful in illustrating Icarus in his foolishness and ignorance. Icarus is portrayed as an unwise character, as he goes against his father’s instructions of not flying too high or too low (as the sun would melt his wings or the sea mist would weigh them down), soaring “exultingly up and up, paying no heed to his father’s anguished commands. Then he fell” (Hamilton 187). The wings could symbolize an overuse of power, as it was considered immoral for mortals to be able to fly—such power should only be in possession of the gods. The idea that the sun is a representation of a higher form adds a layer to the symbolism, as it would suggest that Icarus tried to get on the same level as the gods and thus was punished accordingly. Although Icarus is not depicted as a particularly aggressive or power-hungry character, he does show arrogance by disobeying his father and flying too high, and in the end—as with most Greek tragedies—he pays the price for it.
One of Icarus’ negative traits is his pride, which ultimately leads to his downfall. I can relate, as sometimes I have a tendency to let my pride overwhelm me, whether it be trying to prove myself better than someone or simply trying to put on a bravado, although I typically try to avoid doing so in order to maintain humility. Another trait of his is his desire to aim for extremes; the instruction of not flying too high or too low demonstrates the idea of avoiding extremes and aiming for the middle, or being balanced. While it is sometimes necessary for one to give all he/she has towards a goal or project, it can also lead to self-destruction if the task goes beyond reach—being fully determined is reasonable, but exhausting oneself through such a way may prove detrimental. I am guilty of transcending this happy medium more often than I would like to admit, traversing into both extremes with equal intent. For instance, I may focus too much time and effort on a certain project that is arguably not worth such persistence, while at the same time completely neglecting another project with minimal regard. This, of course, is not apt practice; rather, one should maintain a balanced lifestyle in all aspects—a concept that Icarus had not learned, and one that I will have to with time.
While I do connect with many of Icarus’ traits, I cannot claim that we do not share differences as well; for instance, I would not have disobeyed instructions from an elder, especially not from one as a prominent as my father. Also, if I was in the same position as Icarus was, I would certainly not have done as he did and flown as high, knowing the consequences—I think that, given the situation, I would have been able to use to common sense to realize that such an action would have ended disastrously; however, this is only interpreting Icarus and his actions in a literal sense. I believe that if he had been more balanced and logical in his approach, he would have survived, as well as if he had listened to his father rather than let his pride take control of him. Despite this, the overall message behind his plight proves purposeful in presenting the idea that people should be balanced in every aspect, always keeping “a middle course over the sea” (Hamilton 187). Like Icarus, we should never let pride and hubris take control of us, nor should we aim too high nor too low in going about achieving goals or even living life, as we are all constantly reaching for a goal across the ocean, facing the prospect of extremity, and flying with wax wings.