CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
In her article, "Holy Fools, Secular Saints, and Illiterate Saviors in American Literature and Popular Culture," Dana Heller identifies and analyzes characteristics of the holy fool figure in American literature and culture. Heller defines the holy fool, or divine idiot, as a figure central to U.S. myths of nation. One encounters such figures in American literature as well as in American folklore, popular culture, and mass media. In American culture, the Divine Idiot is a hybrid form which grows out of the crossings of numerous literary and historical currents, both secular and non-secular. This unwieldy hybridity -- the fact that Divine Idiots in American literature resonate across so many historical, national, cultural, and ethnic boundaries while retaining some loose correspondence with earlier Christian prototypes -- has rendered them difficult to locate. However, this identification -- or unveiling -- is a crucial part of an idiot's social function and performance. In her analysis, Heller discusses writings by Flannery O'Connor, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, and films such as The Green Mile and Forrest Gump, in an effort to define divine idiocy in American culture as a means of addressing historical contradictions in American society.
Original Publication Citation
Heller, D. (2003). Holy fools, secular saints, and illiterate saviors in American literature and popular culture. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 5(3), 1-15. doi: 10.7771/1481-4374.1193
Heller, Dana, "Holy Fools, Secular Saints, and Illiterate Saviors in American Literature and Popular Culture" (2003). English Faculty Publications. 32.