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Exploring The Protagonist’s Journey: Analysis of the Theory Introduced by Joseph Campbell

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All narratives have standard structural elements of stages, a universal characteristic of all myths, legends, and even movies. The Protagonist’s Journey or the monomyth is a pattern in storytelling as studied by anthropologists and mythologists such as Otto Rank and Joseph Campbell. It is a standard stencil of a wide group of tales that involve an adventurous protagonist in a decision crisis who becomes victorious and goes back home transformed.

A hero’s journey has twelve substages categorically put under three acts or sections. The first stage known as the separation or departure has five subsections. The first is known as the call for adventure. The second is the refusal of the call. The third is supernatural aid, which is the unsuspected help that accrues to one who has made the decision to go for the perfect adventure. The fourth is crossing of the first edge, and the last is the belly of the whale or a passage into the realm of night.

The second stage involves temptations and victories of instigation and has six subsections. The first is the road of trials or the dangerous features of the gods, which is followed by a meeting with the Goddess. The woman as temptress follows, then amendment with the father, Apotheosis, and ends with the ultimate boon. The third stage involves the return and reintegration of the society, which, from the standpoint of the society is the validation for the long withdrawal (Moore 318). Each step has its unique characteristics and significance, which can be used to either create or analyze a story.

Mythological stages of the adventure

The departure

This stage is the first, and in which the protagonist who living in their normal realm and receives a call to embark on a quest. The protagonist is initially hesitant to accept the call, but a father figure or mentor encourages him.

1. The call for adventure

Always from their normal states or realm, the protagonist receives a unique calling to mysterious realms. The call could result from opportunities brought about by repressed desires or their dissatisfaction with their world (Moore 312). As held by the mystic, it marks the awakening of self.

2. Refusal of the call

The folk tales or myths told in the whole world tell that the refusal is a denial to give up what a person considers his or her best interest. A hesitance characterizes this stage to the call by the protagonist. The protagonist tends to fear dangers that are either real or imagined that may be existing in the unknown world (Kieffer). Sometimes they even believe themselves unworthy of the quest.

3. Supernatural Aid

The hero who does not refuse the call first encounter of the protagonist-journey is with a mentor or protective figure. A little old crone or old man usually plays this role, who helping the protagonist through the adventure (Müller 289). In most instances the aid gifts the protagonist with supernatural training, or trinkets that will help them complete the journey.

4. The crossing of the first threshold

After accepting his adventure, the protagonist goes forward with it until he comes to the threshold guardian who ushers him into the next world. The limit is a literal or figurative doorway to the unique world beyond which darkness and mysterious dangers follow.

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5. The belly of the whale

The passage of the magical edge is a world into a sphere of rebirth represented by the belly of the whale (Campbell, and Cousineau 367). The protagonist does not conquer nor conciliate the power of the threshold, but is swallowed into the unknown and appear to have died inside the belly.

The Initiation

It starts when the protagonist brings into being traversing the edge into the unknown world, where he faces many trials and victories. The hero may either do so alone or with the assistance of others (Campbell, and Cousineau 444). He eventually arrives at the central test of his journey, which he must undergo, and upon succeeds, he achieves apotheosis and therefore gains his treasure, the Holy Grail or elixir.

1. The road of trials

Having traversed the edge of the first world, the protagonist moves in a dream landscape of fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a series of trials. The road of trials is the most popular phase of the quest and has produced world literature of various tests and ordeals. As the protagonist begins to adapt to the new realm, events occur that mark the moment of no turning back (Kieffer). An example in work of literature is a text that says that “…She wore her queenly robes and jewels, and after seven divine decrees girded herself. She was now ready to enter the unknown world.”

2. The meeting with the goddess

According to Campbell, adventure comes to an end when the protagonist overcomes all the barriers and ogre and is commonly represented as a mystical marriage.” A woman, in the figurative language of folklore, signifies the entirety of what can be acknowledged. The protagonist is the one who comes to know, as he progresses through life, the form that the goddess takes for him and her series of transformations. The goddess is never higher than him, though she can always promise more. She entices, guides, and encourages him to break his shackles. When he matches her, the two are set free from all restraint.

3. Woman as Temptress

The mystical marriage happens between the hero and the queen goddess of the world representing the protagonist's mastery of life. The woman symbolizes life, while the protagonist is the knower and master (Campbell 167). The goddess acts a tempter, representing temptations of every kind that distracts the protagonist away from his calling.

4. Atonement with the father

The protagonist must resolve with the father figure, who is his ultimate authority during the adventure. Sons have been known to have a different relationship with their father, but at the same time, they are trying to affirm their manhood. A good example can be seen in this statement, which says that “…he has become himself the father. And he is competent, consequently, now to enact himself the role of the initiator,” (Kieffer).

5. Apotheosis

It is a divine state that the protagonist attains after he goes beyond the last dreads of ignorance. After the trials and reconciliation with the father the protagonist transcends thus achieving a higher form compared to who he was. It is the state of realization where the persona acquires ultimate wisdom, new knowledge, and perception. 'When the mentor annihilates the envelopment of consciousness, then he is set free from all fear, beyond the any reach of transformation' (Müller 245). The protagonist undergoes symbolic death and is reborn to his best or most extreme form.

6. The ultimate boon

It signifies the delivery of the blessing. Also regarded as the stage at which the protagonist receives the reward. It is often the climax of a myth or story and where the protagonist resolves dominant or internal emotion or stress of the story. The protagonist is deemed ready to receive the great gift, the ultimate boon, infinite bliss, and unlimited abilities. Despite him winning at a high cost the protagonist is rewarded for facing the enormous challenge by collecting a treasure in the quest.

7. The return.

The return is the final stage of every story. If the protagonist in his achievement wins the benediction of the god or goddess and he is plainly ordered to go back to the realm with some restorative abilities for the re-establishment of society, the supremacies of his mystical patron support the ultimate stage of his undertaking (Campbell 234). They cross the third threshold; experience a resurrection; and the events transform them.

Works Cited

  1. Campbell, Joseph. The Protagonist with A Thousand Faces. New World Library, 2008.
  2. Campbell, Joseph, and Phil Cousineau. The Protagonist's Journey. New World Library, 2014.
  3. Kieffer, Kristen. 'Breaking Down the Protagonist's Journey Plot Structu.''. Well-Storied., 2018, Accessed 4 Dec 2018.
  4. Moore, Evelyn. Mysticism. A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness. E. P. Dutton And Co, 1930.
  5. Müller, F. Max. The Sacred Books of the East. Clarendon Press, 1978.
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Exploring The Protagonist’s Journey: Analysis of the Theory Introduced by Joseph Campbell. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
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