NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 10. Nos. 1-2, Winter-Spring, 1984
TRAITS OF THE FEMALE HERO:
THE APPLICATION OF RAGLAN’S CONCEPT OF HERO TRAIT PATTERNING
by Mary Ann Jezewski
Folklorists have recognized that regular patterns exist in the life
stories of traditional heroes. VonHahn (1876), Rank (1909) and Raglan
(1934) identified hero patterns independently of each other, but
the frameworks they devised demonstrate that a similarity of pattern
exists in the life stories of selected male heroes of tradition. In an
attempt to see whether there is a pattern to the life stories of female
heroes as well, and if so whether the pattern is valid cross-culturally, I
attempted to apply Raglan’s hero traits to the female hero of tradition
but found that many of the traits he developed for the male hero
did not "fit" the female. Consequently I developed a set of traits that
reflect the life story of the female hero. The traits were compiled by
investigating the life stories of female heroes in Greek mythology and
by extracting certain motifs common to their legends. These were
subsequently applied to selected female heroes cross-culturally and in
various historical periods.
I define the hero as a person whose life story is passed on by oral
tradition and/or written accounts and is remembered for exceptional
deeds that have as their basis qualities exemplified in courage, power
or magic. The hero may be a character of folktale, legend, myth or
The historicity of the hero of tradition has been discussed by
various folklorists including Raglan ( 1936) and Dundes (1980). A
major conceptual issue for Raglan was the existence of the traditional
hero as a real person. He argued that the traditional hero most likely
did not have a basis in history. But Raglan’s use of the term myth to
categorize the accounts of his heroes’ life stories confuses his discussion
of the historicity of the traditional hero. He refers to the myth
and ritual surrounding the traditional hero when it would be more
appropriate to discuss the influence of legend and folktale in patterning
the life stories of heroes. Dun des ( 1980), indeed, states that
Raglan’s hero narratives are not myths but would be folklorically
categorized as folktale or legend. By using legend and folktale in the
folkloric sense, as a basis for patterning the life stories of heroes, the
existence of the traditional hero as a real person does not present
itself as a methodological problem as it did for Raglan and his mythical
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