When I was in 6th grade, my English teacher introduced my class to the concept of “the Heroic Journey”. The Heroic Journey is, as she described it, an age-old theme in literature and stories that follows the emotional development of a character, through time and tests and travel and quests. I honestly can’t tell you too much about the specific stories we read, because a). 6th grade was six years ago and b). my ADHD was not medicated at the time, so needless to say I was drifting in and out of daydreams throughout the entirety of the year. I know we read about King Arthur, who went on a bunch of quests and fought a bunch of battles and Became a Man, but those stories fit the typical format of a “Heroic Journey”: a white guy riding off on a horse to fight some battles and fall in love and gain power while also learning about himself.
I find the stories that deviate from the standard narrative of heroic journeys far more captivating. I was never too into fantasy books or books that contained a lot of action and movement, but I have always loved realistic fiction- stories of people (mainly teenagers) going through life and dealing with challenges that don’t involve fire breathing dragons or the wrath of Poseidon. If you look, you can find a heroic journey in every story; maybe even your own.
In the Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood doesn’t have to travel too far to embark on a journey. And she doesn’t have to kill off mythical beasts, because she battles invisible beasts every day. In White Oleander, Astrid navigates her way, not through an sea of monsters, but a flawed Child Welfare system. Weetzie Bat journeys through powerful emotions like love.
The more that we can perceive heroic journeys in our own lives, the more we can view ourselves as heroes. Our culture has created a messianic hero that few can relate to, and as a result, many people cannot envision themselves becoming empowered as Odysseus or Moses. In reality, every individual embarks on some sort of journey, whether it covers a massive amount of geographical distance or the mere distance of time.