Parallels between the Heroes’ Journey and the Journey of Humanity: Opinion Essay

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If I were to ask you what the goal of a hero is, what would you say? Is it to save humanity, or is it to slay monsters? Is it to discover bountiful treasure, or assist those in need? Chances are, you would describe physical actions that require profound bravery, great feats of strength or unparalleled skill. I mean, who wouldn’t? But what if I told you that the actions of a hero are, in fact, entirely irrelevant? Yes, you read that right! Regardless of their deeds, actions and accomplishments, all heroes achieve one thing – a complete transformation of identity. Whether displayed through piles of glittering gold, or mobs of massacred monsters, self-transformation is the fundamental goal of all heroes. Don’t believe me? Well, through an analysis of the similarities between the literary work of art Beowulf and the award-winning film Interstellar, the true journey of a hero can be seen. So, come along and discover the parallels between the heroes’ journey and the journey of humanity, and maybe discover a bit about yourself along the way.

I know what you’re thinking: Beowulf is a blood-thirsty brute, how could he possibly connect to the likes of Murph? The answer is simple: both Beowulf and Murph undergo a Hero’s Journey of evolution. Coined by Joseph Campbell in the mid-20th Century, the Hero’s Journey describes the journey that is experienced by all heroes – everywhere. These stages can be described in a myriad of ways; however, one trend remains consistent – all heroes reach an ultimate level of self-identity and evolution at the conclusion of their journey. As said by Joseph Campbell himself,

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone… who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary… to discover some life-giving elixir.”

Take Beowulf, for example. At the beginning of the poem, Beowulf is tied down by his ancestry. Be this through his father’s feud with Hrothgar, or the constant literary reference to his lineage, Beowulf is not viewed as an individual but as “Hygelac’s kinsman”. Therefore, Beowulf’s lacking is not in experience or monetary worth, but in identity. Reflected similarly in Interstellar, Murph is shown to be heavily influenced by her father’s mentorship, displaying a rebellious streak and polarising opinions that can be directly attributed to his influence. As such, before her Hero’s Journey begins, Murph, too, is lacking in individuality.

This brings us to the first stage of the Hero’s Journey – the Departure. Defined as the moment where the hero leaves the comfort of their home, this stage is triggered by different things in both Beowulf and Interstellar, however one essential aim is shared by both Murph and Beowulf - the drive to develop a distinct identity. For Beowulf, this development is represented through an evolution of his warrior ability and strength, whereas Murph evolves in a more intellectual, less tangible manner. As he battles his way through the marshes, Beowulf forges a path which separates him from the constraints of his youth. He is no longer regarded as a weakling prince, but as a ‘battle-famed king’ and ‘bulwark of his earls’. Therefore, Beowulf’s evolution of identity can be paralleled to his evolution as a warrior.

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But, you may be thinking, what about Murph? What heroic action does she perform? Yes, it’s true that she doesn’t face physical battles, but don’t be fooled - her challenges are no less trying. No longer constrained by the ties of her childhood, Murph makes a critical decision to leave her family home in the attempt to save humanity. Unlike others around her, she shows persistence in the face of impossible odds, facing challenges head-on rather than hiding feebly underground with the rest of humanity. Unlike Beowulf, therefore, Murph faces psychological battles rather than physical battles, allowing her to transcend her peers and complete her discovery of self-identity.

This begs the question: if Beowulf and Murph share the same goal, why are they so fundamentally different? Well, the answer lies in Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the Jungian archetypal concept states that heroic qualities derive from the collective subconscious ideals of a society. Therefore, Beowulf is a manifestation of the Anglo-Saxon society – displaying the key cultural traits of formal boasting, loyalty and warriorship. Beowulf is a hero of times that have passed. He is a warrior, an intrinsic Anglo-Saxon legend who displays the cultural values of the time.

And, as mandated by the Jungian archetypal concept, the characteristics manifested in Murph are distinctly separate to that of Beowulf. She is a woman, a scientific force to be reckoned with, who displays the intellect and spark that is essential in the modern age. Therefore, Murph embodies modern ideologies and societal values. To us, the qualities of battle-hardened Beowulf are far from worshiped – imagine what would happen if Beowulf ruled a kingdom in this day-and-age! But, to the Anglo-Saxons, Beowulf was an admirable ruler with great strength and promise. This is simply reflective of the changing of societal values and customs and indicates that the representation of a hero truly is dependent on time.

Therefore, the journey of a hero is not simply a journey of slaying monsters or saving humanity. Rather, a true hero’s journey is the journey of self-identity. Campbell’s Hero’s Journey does not simply state the formula for stories; it states the formula that is valued by all humanity. Yes, Beowulf and Murph display some profoundly different archetypes – but what is the one archetype that they share? The urge to develop their identity. Hence, although a hero is manifested from the subconscious culture of a society, all societies value an evolution of identity, hence making the journey of a hero akin to the journey of humanity as a whole.

The concept of a ‘hero’ is enigmatic. Although our representation of heroes has changed over time, the plight of the hero is shadowed in all stories as one monomyth. Be it a battle of the sword or a battle of the mind, heroes share one universal goal – the urge to discover their self-identity. At the beginning of their stories, both Beowulf and Murph struggle to separate from the pressures of family lineage and influence. However, as they cycle through the Hero’s Journey, a sense of self is found, allowing the heroes’ individuality to flourish. This is displayed profoundly at the end of both stories, where Murph and Beowulf reach an ultimate peak of wisdom and age, representing their internal evolution in a much more physical manner.

Therefore, perhaps the Hero’s Journey is not exclusively a hero’s journey after all. Rather, it is a journey of humanity, depicting the trials and triumphs of life, and ultimate self-discovery of death. The heroes’ departure is not simply a physical departure, but a metaphorical departure of identity. Throughout their many adventures, heroes face tasks – psychological or physical – which challenges their sense of self. This allows them to evolve as an individual, leading them to the discovery of the treasure of wisdom which is manifested in physical maturity at the journey’s end. So, regardless of their age, origin, or archetypal values present, perhaps the journey of a hero is more relatable than we thought. Because, at the end of the day, heroes really are human after all.

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Parallels between the Heroes’ Journey and the Journey of Humanity: Opinion Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/parallels-between-the-heroes-journey-and-the-journey-of-humanity-opinion-essay/
“Parallels between the Heroes’ Journey and the Journey of Humanity: Opinion Essay.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/parallels-between-the-heroes-journey-and-the-journey-of-humanity-opinion-essay/
Parallels between the Heroes’ Journey and the Journey of Humanity: Opinion Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/parallels-between-the-heroes-journey-and-the-journey-of-humanity-opinion-essay/> [Accessed 18 Apr. 2024].
Parallels between the Heroes’ Journey and the Journey of Humanity: Opinion Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2024 Apr 18]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/parallels-between-the-heroes-journey-and-the-journey-of-humanity-opinion-essay/
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