Narrative arcs and journeys give form and expression to abiding human dreams, fears, pursuits, and longings. For thousands of years, stories and art have helped people confront internal and external obstacles, find personal meaning and spiritual purpose, and seek a place they can call home in a community larger than themselves.
Some literature and film include one or more characters with a hero’s journey and others who are taking one of the heroine journeys. There can also be considerable overlap in the internal and external conflicts and means of resolving them. However, there are important differences between the Hero’s Journey and Heroine Journeys. We will address many of the differences in our blog posts, and here are a few.
Some Differences Between Hero and Heroine Journeys
The hero’s journey typically begins with a “call to adventure” in which the hero is called upon to leave his home or protective community for a wider, more exciting world. The heroine’s journey often begins with a betrayal or disillusionment– a realization that the idealized world where it is assumed she will pass her adult years is not what she thought it would be. Thus, the hero’s story starts with a dream of adventure and excitement, whereas the heroine’s journey is often motivated by a threat to her self, either literally or psychologically.
A typical hero’s journey ends with the hero bringing back an object or prize that will bring him recognition in his community and help him impart his newly earned wisdom to his kinsmen. The heroine’s journey often begins with a similar arc to the hero’s journey, but the heroine finds that those at home do not recognize and regard her as a leader (at least not for any sustained period of time) despite her wisdom, and she is not going to be a role model for those in the dominant group coming behind her. Because her efforts and success do not produce the expected reward and recognition in the dominant “masculine” pubic sphere, the heroine must confront all of her received assumptions about success and meaning, reclaim the “weak” attributes or qualities she distanced herself from while pursuing the culturally endorsed (masculine) version of success and figure out a way to integrate conflicting parts of herself and find a place of centered integrity in her engagement with the world. For more on two versions of a heroine journeys click here and here.
Although we refer to the alternative to Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as the Heroine’s Journey both men and women can have experiences and narratives that follow the hero or heroine journey arc. (For a list of Academy Award winning films with male protagonists that follow the heroine’s journey and female protagonists that follow the hero’s journey, click here.) The most common male heroine’s journey protagonists are those that are outsiders in the dominant community because of their race, political or sexual orientation, gender identity, sensibility, illness, disability, or immigrant status. Their outsider status is often a precipitating factor in their initial rejection or betrayal, and they have the same difficulties as women in being comfortable with the limitations of conventional male standards of success and are often undermined after the initial celebration of their return home with the desired accolades or treasure.
Last (for now) and certainly not least, when the hero reaches his destination he is acknowledged as a valued, and often revered, member of some community; often he is made king as a result of vanquishing an enemy of the realm. The heroine’s journey does not culminate in this sort of victory; her quest ends with wholeness– an integration of polarities that usually includes opposites associated with the “masculine” and feminine” but may include other polarities such as success and failure, life and death, illness and health, etc.
Some differences between Hero, HEROINE, and Healing Journeys
The primary focus of the healing journey, as the name implies, is a physical and mental/emotional/spiritual paradigm shift that enables the protagonist to kindly accept his or her circumstances and him/herself. The focus is on an individual, although the individual may also be viewed as representative of a larger group, or humanity (and sometimes a group is personified as an injured or ill individual). The healing journey begins with hurt and ends with wholeness as do many heroine journeys, but the focus is on the internal battle, and the internal transformation that is required to meet one primary identifiable obstacle or limitation (such as addiction, having cancer, dyslexia, PTSD, having been betrayed, learning to be a mother to an unusual child, being near death, etc.).
The early stages of the journey are characterized by attempts to deny, argue with, and aggressively fight the pain/illness followed by loss of love for self and capitulation which ends in deeper illness/ death if the journey is not completed, or is followed by a slow paradigm shift in which the protagonist gives up her vision of wellness, fairness, healing, etc. and surrenders to whatever reality is, and may turn out to be, and moves through whatever physical, psychological and spiritual hoops are set in front of her to enact the paradigm shift that will transform his/her life, relationship with self, and world view. A healing journey story often feels something like a hero’s journey story because it ends with a triumph over the original hurt or over the deeper challenge contained within the original hurt. Also, like the hero’s journey, the protagonist’s new-found wisdom usually includes the retention of certain mental binaries, such as health and illness or bravery and denial, although the healed one is likely to define them quite differently than she did before taking her journey.