Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey is a universal story motif first identified and named by Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s studies (1991, 2008) in comparative mythology and cross-discipline interests helped him recognize commonalities between stories told in diverse cultures (e.g., Native American, Catholicism). Campbell’s structure is quite detailed, but basically charts the story of an individual who leaves home to venture into the unknown on a quest, is tested by hardship or ordeals on the journey, and returns home triumphant and with a gift to help his community. Often the hero goes through a period of hopelessness. The story may be truncated by the hero’s failure or death, but even then a gift is given in the form of a warning or message. The hero may be aided by real or supernatural beings.

In Campbell’s narrative structure, symbolic, spiritual, and psychological elements are critical. Symbolic meanings often complement the physicality of the story. Understanding the hero’s inner journey as it changes in tandem with the physical journey is necessary to grasp the depth of the narrative. Recently, Hero’s Journey has been adapted to illustrate other more contemporary life journeys, such as students making their way through school while seeking knowledge and people working their way through life’s hardships, such as loss of a loved one or a diagnosis of cancer. Traditionally Hero’s Journey was viewed as a masculine narrative structure but has been applied to and recast for real life and fairytale heroines. The feminine retelling often includes leaving comfortable but problematic domesticity or escape from domestic abuse and eventual recognition of assets, skills, and courage. The kindness of other women or helpful supernatural animals often aids the heroine’s journey.

Visual Representation of the hero's journey

Stages

Hero’s Journey may apply to a narrative even if not all of Campbell’s Hero's Journey stages are included. Hero’s Journey may describe the development of a story that is also described by a different narrative structure. Usually presented as a circle, these six significant stages are useful in...
Example

In the film Clash of the Titans (1981, 2010), a retelling of a Greek myth, Perseus leaves his adopted home of Joppa to prove himself worthy and to find out how to save the woman he loves and Joppa from the Kraken, a sea monster. His mentor Ammon gives him guidance. He faces many obstacles...
Learning Applications

When to apply this structure: A strong signal that a storyline matches the Hero's Journey narrative structure is a sense of the heroic. The story often includes risking something vital, especially the main character's life, for a worthy and often impossible-seeming goal. The journey...