Chimera By John Barth - ReadScholars

Chimera By John Barth

A unique form of story can be found in "Chimera," a book by John Barth. It dates from a period known as the postmodern, published in 1972. There are three interconnected stories in the book.

In the first tale, "Dunyazadiad," a character named Dunyazad entertains her sister Shahrazad with tales to spare her punishment. It is comparable to the Persian story known as "One Thousand and One Nights."

In the second tale, "Perseid," a hero named Perseus is featured. He battles the terrifying Medusa to save his mother.

The third tale is referred to as "Bellerophoniad." It is about Bellerophon, who battles demons and obtains the gods' favor while astride a legendary horse named Pegasus.

These tales encourage us to reflect on storytelling, our identity, and the relationship between myth and reality. The book also does an intriguing task. It questions the typical structure of stories using postmodern concepts. It establishes connections to other stories, talks about itself, and involves the reader in deciphering the meaning.

Summary of Chimera

Here is John Barth's "Chimera" Summary. It isn't very clear, but let me explain.

"Dunyazadiad": A Collection of Stories

The first section is referred to as "Dunyazadiad." Imagine a story-based puzzle. Similar to the well-known "One Thousand and One Nights," but from a different perspective. In the actual account, Shahrazad tells stories to help her survive. Imagine Dunyazad, her sister, speaking at this point. When Shahrazad is captured, she comforts her by telling stories. These tales combine humor, melancholy, and reflections on love and identity. The distinction between reality and fiction begins to erode. It resembles stories within stories.

"Perseid": A Fresh Take on an Old Tale

Then comes "Perseid." Consider the hero Perseus, who fought Medusa. Perseus is a struggling author working on a new novel in this version. The narrative of his namesake consumes him. His personal life is even represented in the hero's journey. The myth serves as a key to revealing his secrets. It has to do with telling stories, writing, and the blending of reality and fantasy.

"Bellerophoniad" - A Contemporary Myth

Last but not least, the "Bellerophoniad" describes Bellerophon, a hero who rides Pegasus and battles monsters. Bellerophon, a retired astronaut, is caught in this situation between the gods of the ancient Greeks and modern science. Big questions about existence and what we know confront him. It deals with technology, becoming a hero, and how classic tales translate to the modern era.

In conclusion, a collection of stories called "Chimera" presents ancient mythology in fresh ways. It discusses what authors do, how tales and reality collide, and who we are. It could be challenging, but it's an opportunity to consider important concepts through the lens of historical stories.

Themes in Chimera

Indeed, here are some of the major themes of each novella in "Chimera" by John Barth:

1. "Dunyazadiad"

  • The power of storytelling and narrative to shape our understanding of the world
  • The relationship between reality and fiction and how fiction can sometimes be more "real" than reality itself
  • The fluidity of identity and the challenges of defining oneself in a world of constantly shifting narratives
  • The importance of love and compassion as sources of human connection and meaning.  
2. "Perseid"
  • The struggle of the artist to create something original and authentic in a world of existing myths and stories
  • The relationship between the creative process and personal identity and how art can be a means of self-discovery
  • The tension between reality and imagination and the extent to which the stories we tell ourselves shape our understanding of the world
  • The role of language in creating and conveying meaning, and the limitations of language as a tool of communication and expression
3. "Bellerophoniad"
  • The tension between tradition and progress and the challenges of navigating a world that is both ancient and modern
  • The dangers of technology and how it can be used to control and manipulate human behavior
  • The relationship between mortality and heroism and how our fear of death can drive us to achieve great things
  • The importance of humility and self-awareness in the face of our limitations and the mysteries of the universe.

Overall, "Chimera" is a complex and multilayered work that explores themes related to identity, storytelling, and the human condition. By retelling ancient myths and stories innovatively, Barth challenges us to rethink our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us.

Symbolism in Chimera

Indeed, here are some of the significant symbols and their meanings in each novella of "Chimera" by John Barth:


  • The night sky: The stars in the night sky are a recurring symbol throughout the novella, representing the vastness of the universe and the infinite possibilities of storytelling.
  • The labyrinth: The labyrinth is a recurring motif in the stories Dunyazad tells, representing the twists and turns of the human psyche and the complex nature of personal identity.
  • The garden: The garden that Dunyazad describes in one of her stories symbolizes love, beauty, and innocence and represents a paradise often lost in the real world.

  • The mirror is a recurring symbol throughout the novella, representing the reflection of the self and how our identities are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves.
  • The hero's journey: The hero's journey, as described in Joseph Campbell's work, is a recurring motif in the novella, representing the quest for self-discovery and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.
  • The Gorgon's head: The Gorgon's head symbolizes the monstrous aspects of the human psyche and how our fears and desires can overwhelm us and turn us into monsters.

  • The winged horse: The winged horse Pegasus symbolizes freedom and transcendence, representing the human desire to rise above the limitations of the earthly world and achieve greatness.
  • The gods: The gods in the novella are symbols of both the ancient past and the present, representing the tension between tradition and progress and how our understanding of the divine has evolved.
  • The labyrinth: Once again, the labyrinth symbolizes the complexities of personal identity and the challenges of navigating a world full of mysteries and unknowns.

Overall, "Chimera" is a rich and complex work that uses a range of symbols and motifs to explore themes related to identity, storytelling, and the human condition. Drawing on ancient myths and stories, Barth creates a multilayered narrative that challenges readers to rethink their assumptions about themselves and the world around them.

Literary Devices in Chimera

Indeed, here are some of the major literary devices used in each novella of "Chimera" by John Barth:

In "Dunyazadiad"
  • Framing device: The novella is framed as a story within a story, with the narrator recounting Dunyazad's tales to a group of listeners.
  • Intertextuality: The novella draws on various intertextual references, including the Arabian Nights tales, to create a complex and layered narrative.
  • Metaphor: Dunyazad's stories are often rich in metaphor, using language to create vivid and imaginative images that capture the essence of the human experience.

In "Perseid"
  • Stream-of-consciousness: The novella often uses stream-of-consciousness narration, reflecting the inner thoughts and emotions of the main character, Peter.
  • Allusion: The novella makes frequent allusions to classical mythology and literature, drawing on these sources to create a rich and complex narrative.
  • Irony: The novella often uses satire to critique its time's cultural values and assumptions, highlighting the absurdity of certain social conventions and beliefs.

In "Bellerophoniad"
  • Epistolary format: The novella is structured as a series of letters between the main character, Bellerophon, and his wife and friends.
  • Satire: The novella often uses satire to critique the excesses and hypocrisies of modern society, using humor and irony to expose the contradictions and absurdities of contemporary life.
  • Imagery: The novella is rich in vivid and detailed imagery, using language to create a sensory and immersive experience for the reader.

Overall, "Chimera" is a highly literary work that draws on various devices and techniques to create a complex and layered narrative. By combining multiple genres, styles, and forms of storytelling, Barth challenges readers to think critically about the nature of storytelling and how it shapes our understanding of the world.

Title Significance of Chimera

Here's an overview of the significance of the title and each of the different novellas in "Chimera" by John Barth:

Title: The word "chimera" refers to a mythological creature made up of parts from different animals. The term has also come to be used more broadly to refer to anything that combines different elements. In the context of the book, the title "Chimera" suggests the idea of hybridity and multiplicity, reflecting the complex and varied nature of the stories that Barth tells.

  • "Dunyazadiad": This novella draws heavily on the tradition of Arabian Nights tales, featuring a series of nested stories that are told by the character of Dunyazad. The novella explores themes of storytelling, imagination, and the power of language to create meaning and shape our understanding of the world. The significance of this novella lies in its use of storytelling as a means of exploring the human condition and its examination of how stories can shape and transform our lives.
  • "Perseid": This novella is a contemporary retelling of the myth of Perseus, the Greek hero who slays Gorgon Medusa. The novella explores themes of heroism, identity, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world. The significance of this novella lies in its use of classical mythology to explore timeless human concerns and its commentary on how we construct our sense of self through the stories we tell ourselves.
  • "Bellerophoniad": This novella is a satirical reimagining of the myth of Bellerophon, the Greek hero who rode the winged horse Pegasus. The novella uses letters between the main character, Bellerophon, and his wife and friends to explore themes of power, corruption, and the challenges of living in a complex and interconnected world. The significance of this novella lies in its use of satire to critique contemporary society and its exploration of the tensions between tradition and progress in modern life.

Overall, the novellas in "Chimera" are united by their use of storytelling to explore the human condition. Each novella uses a different form and style, drawing on various literary techniques and devices to create a multilayered and complex narrative. The title "Chimera" reflects the book's focus on hybridity and diversity and its celebration of the rich and varied nature of human experience.

Reason for Mythical Stories in Chimera

In the book "Chimera," John Barth tells us stories in a special way. These stories are shorter and are called novellas. The reason for this is to show us different parts of being human from different angles. Each novella is unique. They look different, sound different, and talk about different things. But they all share one thing: they show us how stories can change how we see the world.

Barth uses different ways to tell these stories. It's like he's inviting us to see the book in different ways. He wants us to think about how stories, who we are, and what things mean are all connected. Each novella gives us a new challenge. Some parts are funny, some parts are about making fun of things, and some parts play with other stories we know. This mix makes reading "Chimera" a rich and interesting experience.

So, the goal of telling these different stories in "Chimera" is to make a book that makes us think. It wants us to use our minds and feel things in our hearts. It's not just about reading; it's about understanding stories and how they help us understand ourselves and the world we live in.

Character Analysis of Chimera

Each of the novellas in "Chimera" is like a big puzzle of stories with characters that become clearer as you read. Let's take a close look at the characters in each novella:

In "Dunyazadiad":

In this part, called "Dunyazadiad," it's like a new version of the Arabian Nights story. The main focus is on Scheherazade. There's a person telling the story, and he's hired to give the old story a modern twist. Scheherazade is quite the character – she's smart and mysterious. She uses her storytelling skills to survive in a world ruled by men.

In "Perseid":

Now "Perseid" it's a science fiction story set in the future on a spaceship. The main character is Miles Frobisher, and he's on a journey through space. On his way, he meets really strange characters, even aliens who look like famous historical people! Miles could be better; he's got issues. He needs to improve at handling his feelings and gets drawn into the spaceship's surreal world.

In "Bellerophoniad":

Lastly, "Bellerophoniad," tells the story of Bellerophon, a Greek hero who tames a winged horse. But this time, it's set in today's world. The main character is Emmet Van Dorn, who's trying to figure out life's meaning. He travels around and meets some odd characters, like a talking mule and a man who claims he's Edgar Allan Poe reborn.


Scheherazade, from "Dunyazadiad," is a smart storyteller trying to survive. In "Perseid," Miles Frobisher has a tough time figuring out his emotions in a space adventure. And in "Bellerophoniad," Emmet Van Dorn is deep and thoughtful, looking for answers. The other characters are also complex, from the spaceship's captain to the strange folks Emmet meets. These novellas dive into some big questions about life and who we are. They let us see different sides of characters as their stories unfold.

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