Deviations of the Hero’s Journey

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In the realm of literature, various works are associated with Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. According to Campbell, a hero’s journey commences when a character departs his home, also known as his ordinary world, to navigate to an obscure world. Campbell is acknowledged to be the founder of the hero’s journey archetype. The hero endures and conquers difficulties in the process, which in return makes him stronger. He learns from his previous mistakes and establishes a new life, or improved one, within new world as a changed person.

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Throughout the journey, the hero bears copious amounts of misfortune and tribulations. In each phase of the journey, the hero finds means to conquer challenges. After withstanding various challenges, the hero eventually encounters a new beginning as a transformed person. The final stage of the story is significant because the hero carries with him the many life lessons as he begins a new life. Certain novels in the past have prevailed to deviate and vary on the hero’s journey path. Due to a variation of factors, some novels deflect from the standard hero path.

A notable novel, The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki is a dramatic, historical-fiction, novel written about the story of the infamous General Benedict Arnold. While being told in a theatrical way, the main character, Clara, is not the hero but develops into a narrator. The fact that this entire novel does not have a clear hero makes it a perfect example of deviation from the hero’s journey. Every character that is of importance ends up having their own story that diverges from the standard hero’s journey. First, the introductory stage constructs the ordinary life before the character encounters complications. These complications include Peggy Shippen, General Washington, The Continental Congress, and a number of other entities that ultimately convince Arnold to become a traitor. The novel begins with, Clara the new maid, arriving at the doorstep of the Shippen family. Pataki sets up the ordinary world for Peggy Shippen by introducing select smells, visuals, and sounds from her family home to illustrate what her life was like before meeting Benedict Arnold.

While describing Arnold’s ordinary world, Pataki describes his military service and how a injury from the war creates a permanent limp. The reader truly gets a personal insight from the narrator, Clara, and illuminates what the author wants the reader to know. Similarly, George Washington’s introduction and ordinary world is comparable to Arnold’s military world but Pataki describes him in a much higher way. Select details about Washington parades his social status during colonial times. Although these are not the only three possible ‘heroes’ in the novel, it does show how different each characters are and just how different this journey is. Like most hero journeys, the ordinary world is established early in the novel but because there are so many potential heros, the ordinary world is established at various points in the plot, making it confusing to determine which one is the true and most important ordinary world. Next, Joseph Campbell defines a hero as someone who is strong and inspires readers; the hero must empower readers to look at the positives. Campbell’s definition of a hero involves sacrifice and other aspects that will create empathy for the character. In The Traitor’s Wife, not a single character besides the narrator is allowed to have a emotional connection. While the other characters have emotional connections with each other, Clara has one with the audience.

This is largely because of her narrator role in the entire novel. It begins and finishes with her, and the reader learns about major plot points while she does. Thus, Clara is not our hero. She does not inspire the audience but expresses ideas the author would like to convey. On the other hand, Benedict Arnold does not by any means inspire the audience, unless that inspiration is to betray one’s country. He is not one’s typical hero but becomes a prime example of a shadow. One can argue that George Washington is the hero, in terms of his military service and devout loyalty to his men. He ultimately gets dubbed the hero of the revolution but some would argue against that. Not in regards to the historical side but purely in regards to literature. Although Washington has a large role in the plot, the story does not follow him and his journey. The understanding of the novel is that Washington comes in and is almost a guardian during the attempted sale of West Point.

Furthermore, Peggy Shippen is the last suspected hero. Her role in the dramatic plot to hand over America to the British is vital and forthcoming but becomes a herald because she forces the need for change in Benedict’s life. She is the person who forced Benedict to buy her nice and expensive items and then makes the Continental Congress the enemy, when they didn’t pay Benedict. Her longing for expensive items, with her past connection to the monarchy turns her into a mix of a herald, ally, and shapeshifter. Within the twelve stages of the hero’s journey, so parts are missing. For example, the call to adventure is missing. A call to adventure is typically a good deed the hero is asked to do but sacrifices a part of him to complete, which leads us to the refusal. Because these two typically come as a package, if one is not present, the other is missing. Of course each character has a call to adventure but Benedict Arnold, our main character, does not have a call to adventure that a regular hero has. His call to adventure is to sell West Point and other American secrets to the British. He does refuse this but not for any patriotic reason. He naturally does not want to betray his country but it isn’t a genuine frustration. His mentor also becomes his allie and this mixes up the entirety of Act 2. From meeting with the mentor to the reward, all of these are either out of order or missing.

The inmost cave is missing but the audience can argue that we see the crossing of the threshold before the mentor. Since there is no ordinary hero, the result is a deviation from the hero’s journey. Even if all twelve of the stages are in place, they do not work without one clear hero. In Allison Pataki’s story, Benedict Arnold’s heroic journey is not complementary to Campbell’s idea of a hero’s journey. The betrayal of his country and the numerous times he conspired against his country makes him the enemy. Arnold dealt with his obstacles on a head up approach, grasping the idea that triumph is not an easy path. As described by Joseph Campbell, a hero must be admired or idealized for their positive characteristics. Although the standards include noble qualities, courage, and bravery, many modern superheroes don’t have these specific qualities. In The Traitor’s Wife, due to the lack of a main hero, unpatriotic traits, and gaps between the stages of the hero’s journey, one may conclude that this novel deviates from the standard idea of a hero’s journey.

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Deviations of the Hero's Journey. (2019, Dec 17). Retrieved from