Make Life a Mythic Journey
Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths
—-Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By
My colleague, Arnie Katz, offers an adult-education class called “Classic Films, Modern Myths.” Recently he showed the movie, Field of Dreams, about a ‘60s hippie, Ray Kinsella, who moves to Iowa and in the late ‘70s, becomes a farmer. There he hears the famous refrain from the film, “If you build it, he will come.” He soon has a vision that reveals “it” to be a baseball field. Ray feels, like his late father from whom he was estranged, that life with its opportunity to fulfill one’s dreams might be slipping away from him. He’s torn between following the voice and the fear of the financial risks it poses. His wife, the embodiment of the Demeter feminine, encourages him to follow this dream. And so Ray builds his baseball “field of dreams.” But this is only the first challenge in his hero’s journey.
Ray faces a series of tasks involving finding and bringing other men to the field. As is often the case in such myths, it involves a confrontation with death itself. In this case, Ray is asked to “go the distance” and find a former baseball player Archie “Moonlight” Graham. Graham turns out to be a deceased Minnesota physician who had a short, but unfulfilled, professional baseball career. And like Odysseus, Ray must visit Hades to retrieve this “wounded healer” before he can face his final confrontation. It’s then that we find out who the “he” is that “will come.” It is Ray’s father, John. That’s when the tears came into my eyes. What Joseph Campbell calls the “at-one-ment” with the father takes place in the penultimate scene. All the old regrets—the anger, the fear—are finally overcome in the reconciliation of a game of catch.
As Jung would say the “negative Father complex” is resolved. The psychological block, the unconscious fear of change that says “Stop” you can’t do this, you can’t achieve that—you can’t build your field of dreams—dissolves. Jung added, “What we see enacted on the stage of world-history happens also in the individual” (The Father, p. 244). The ultimate scene in Field of Dreams bears this out. Here the prophecy of Ray’s young daughter Karen who says, “If you build it, they [emphasis added] will come” is borne out. The boon that the hero brings to us is recognized in the line of cars waiting to visit the field. Karen represents our legacy. And today we have to ask if we are leaving a “field of [broken] dreams”?
America has always been the mythic land of “can do.” It was father Abraham—Abraham Lincoln, that is—who said, despite the ravages and cost of the Civil War, that we “can do.” And we did. We built the transcontinental railroad. And a century later, it was father, “I Like Ike”—Dwight Eisenhower, that is—who said, despite the cost of the Korean War, that we “can do.” And we did. We built the interstate highway system. Both these men were positive father figures and Republican Presidents. Today, we are in the era of “can’t do.” A Republican governor of New Jersey says we can’t build a new railroad tunnel into New York despite considerable federal aid. Other Republican governors echo the “can’t do” mantra as they reject federal funds to build modern high-speed rail systems now commonplace in Europe, Japan, and China.
Ray Kinsella had to risk financial ruin to build his Field of Dreams. His farm was about to be foreclosed, but he followed his dream and flourished. We can’t allow—psychologically or politically—to have negative father figures foreclose our dreams. That’s not the America of our fathers.
Paul Marshall Wortman
May 6, 2012