The Anatomy of The Great Code

ENG 494 Objective Criticism
Portland State University
M. Clark
December 7, 1998

The Great Code by Northrop Frye is an attempt at a study of the Bible from the perspective of a literary critic. As we have already seen in his previous work, Frye has a unique approach to analyzing literature. Explicit in The Anatomy of Criticism and implicit in The Great Code is the assumption that converging patterns of significance lead the critic to conclude that fundamental archetypes exist that can be identified and analyzed in all universally effective works of literature. As a practical application of his critical model, Frye spends much of The Great Code setting up his arguments with lengthy and seemingly irrelevant minutiae. Once he moves the reader past all the considerations necessary for one to appreciate an archetypal critique pf such a unique piece of writing, he identifies the pattern that seems to be the fundamental template for the rest of literature. The example that Frye finally gives after years of theoretical speculation is extremely obvious and detracts from the legitimacy of his position.
"Below the cultural inheritance, there must be a common psychological inheritance." ("Great" xviii) It is with this assumption that Frye begins his literary study of the Bible. He asserts that man lives in a "mythological universe" and that the goal of criticism is to "make us more aware of our mythological conditioning." ("Great" xviii) He spends the second chapter of The Great Code essentially summarizing and refining his polemical position from the Anatomy. This belief leads Frye to assume that the reason the Bible is at the heart of our cultural heritage is that it must, as Professor Clark indicated in lecture, "tap into the universal streak in every reader." He works with the assumption that "every mind is a primitive mind, despite the varieties of social conditioning." ("Great" 37) Based on this assumption, the universal aspect that makes up the very essence of the myth (in the secondary definition he adopts) is "recreated in every age by the poets." ("Great" 38) In essence, man does "not create myth, but release it." ("Great" 37) His assertion is that certain patterns arise in all of literature because they are found in the Bible. Could we not say that if myths are in fact never created, then the Bible is just one more example of the human psyche\'s addressing of fundamental archetypes? If the same myths are recreated by every generation, then wouldn\'t the generation that created the Bible merely be doing the same thing? The Bible is either the fundamental template or merely the most efficient and effective "release" of an archetypal myth. If it is the fundamental template, then Frye\'s point in the Anatomy about structures not arising from influence from within the human experience is disproven. Or is the Bible the unique centripetal work to which everything else can have centrifugal ties? If the Bible is merely a release of fundamental archetypes, then it is just another example of the archetypal structures inherent to literature and would not warrant being considered the great code. There is a third alternative that may be somewhat more appropriate, but it is my derived implication and not explicitly conveyed in the book. Perhaps Frye assumes that since the Bible articulates these psychological truths in the purest and most accessible way, it has been able to rise above the rest of literature as a pure example that authors have looked to and which in turn has influenced the literary canon thus perpetuating its structure. Whatever his assumption may be, contradictory or otherwise, he is essentially looking for the structure that he claims, in the Anatomy, is found in literary art.
As Frye is laying down his assumptions we are given a segmented synopsis of his beliefs from the Anatomy with the same circular reasoning to justify his presumptions. "A wide distributions of flood myths is no more an indication of such a flood than a wide distribution of creation myths are evidence of creation." ("Great" 36) This may in fact be the case, but belief in this does not mean that Frye\'s common inheritance is necessarily correct, only that a correlation need no exist between fact and widespread myth. The most seemingly legitement argument, or rather rhetorical