Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
The Deer Hunter is a self-appointed American epic. Its scale is large, its ambition vast. It seeks to invest a sweep of American experience with mythic significance. It is designed to overwhelm.
Its subject is the Vietnam War. Consciously or not, it approaches Vietnam in terms of ancient American themes. The very title recalls The Deerslayer of Cooper, and Deerslayer recalls D. H. Lawrence's famous comment: "You have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of byplay. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted."
Deerslayer embodied the hunter myth that the white man's encounter with the wilderness had given peculiar force in America. This myth reached its literary culmination in the greatest hunt of all, in Moby Dick, and it has been utilized by Faulkner. Hemingway, and Mailer in our own time. Lawrence's account of the American as hunter is perhaps incomplete. For the American soul, at least in the national mythology, does melt….
The seeds of many American tragedies, [as Richard Slotkin concludes in Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860], "are planted in the captive-and-hunter myth, the myth of regeneration through violence." (p. 50)
[A] new captivity, a new hunt, and...
(The entire section is 456 words.)