Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” can be a useful framework for interpreting stories, especially since he was aspiring to make it something universally applicable! In class we simplified the “Hero’s Journey” framework to just 5 stages: 1. The Call: A significant event that summons the main character on a quest or journey which could be physical or psychological. Usually the character is reluctant to embark on this quest, but is forced to because the call has shifted or threatens to shift something fundamental to the character’s way of life 2. The Search: Which road to take? How to go about solving the problem? In this stage the character is pursuing much needed knowledge and understanding. Usually in this stage they are given some advice or guidance as to how they should proceed. 3. The Struggle: The major conflict in the story. There could be a lot of minor conflicts leading up to the major one and these are all part of this stage as well. Sometimes the character gives up during the struggle, realizing the immensity of the task they have set out to complete, but then is convinced or forced to try again 4. The Breakthrough: At last! They win the battle, they realize what is important, they finally do that thing they are supposed to do and by overcoming the struggle the main character has changed who they are and what they are capable of. The Breakthrough stage is in some way the “answer” to the Call. 5. The Return: The end of one story is the beginning of another. When the main character “returns” from their quest they might end up back in the same place they began (or not) but their experience has changed them. Although things “go back to normal” It is a “new normal”. Choose any story you like, it could be from your own life, something that happened to someone you know, a story from a book, the plot of a movie, etc. and apply the simplified Hero’s Journey framework to it (Just the 5 Stages mentioned above. As you write the story, (or after telling the story) point out which events in the story relate to the five stages. As we saw in class, there is no right or wrong way to do this, so you should explain your reasons for mapping the stages onto the story the way you did.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey serves as a valuable framework for understanding and interpreting narratives. This framework consists of five distinct stages that provide insights into a character’s evolution and personal growth as they navigate challenges and obstacles. In this essay, we will apply the simplified Hero’s Journey framework to the sci-fi classic “The Matrix” to uncover how the protagonist Neo undergoes a profound transformation throughout the story.
Stage 1: The Call
The first stage of the Hero’s Journey is a pivotal moment that beckons the main character onto a transformative quest. In “The Matrix,” Neo, an introverted computer programmer living a mundane life, becomes the recipient of cryptic messages that mysteriously appear on his computer screen. These enigmatic messages serve as the initial call to adventure for Neo. However, what makes this stage particularly compelling is Neo’s initial reluctance to embrace this call.
Neo’s hesitation reflects a universal archetype seen in countless hero narratives throughout history. It embodies the very essence of the hero’s journey, where the hero grapples with the unknown and the fear of leaving behind the familiar. Neo’s reluctance to accept Morpheus’ offer of the red pill symbolizes his internal conflict. He must choose between the comfort of the simulated world he knows and the daunting unknown that awaits him outside the Matrix (Campbell, 2017).
This pivotal moment captures the essence of human nature – the fear of change, the hesitation to leave one’s comfort zone, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It is a crucial stage in Neo’s character development as it sets the foundation for his transformative journey.
Stage 2: The Search
Having made the life-altering choice to swallow the red pill, Neo embarks on a profound journey to uncover the hidden truths about the Matrix. This journey constitutes the second stage, known as the Search, where the character actively seeks knowledge and guidance to navigate the unfamiliar terrain that lies before them.
In Neo’s case, the journey involves not just physical exploration but also a deep internal quest for understanding. As he gradually awakens to the harsh reality that the world he believed to be real is, in fact, a meticulously constructed illusion, Neo undergoes a profound mental transformation. He grapples with the enormity of this revelation, and his quest becomes a voyage of self-discovery.
Morpheus and his crew become Neo’s mentors, providing him with the guidance necessary to navigate this unfamiliar and perilous journey. They introduce him to the real world outside the Matrix and help him comprehend the true nature of his existence. This guidance is pivotal in Neo’s transformation, as it equips him with the knowledge required to confront the challenges that lie ahead (Smith, 2018).
Stage 3: The Struggle
The third stage of the Hero’s Journey, aptly named “The Struggle,” is where the protagonist faces the central conflict of the narrative. In “The Matrix,” Neo encounters a series of formidable challenges and adversaries that test his mettle and determination.
One of the most prominent challenges Neo faces is the relentless pursuit of the Agents – sentient computer programs tasked with maintaining the illusion of the Matrix. These enigmatic and powerful adversaries serve as formidable obstacles on Neo’s path to enlightenment and freedom. Their relentless pursuit adds an element of urgency and danger to Neo’s journey, creating tension and drama in the storyline.
Furthermore, the Struggle stage is not confined solely to external conflicts. Neo also grapples with internal battles as he attempts to master his newfound abilities within the Matrix. The iconic training sequences and combat scenarios in the film symbolize his inner struggle to harness his full potential.
Neo’s journey mirrors the archetype of the hero’s perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. At times, he experiences moments of doubt and despair, realizing the magnitude of the task he has undertaken. However, it is through these trials and tribulations that Neo’s character evolves and his determination to confront the oppressive system of the Matrix is strengthened (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999).
Stage 4: The Breakthrough
The Breakthrough stage is a pivotal juncture in the hero’s journey, signifying the culmination of their transformation. For Neo in “The Matrix,” this stage is embodied in his epic showdown with Agent Smith. This confrontation serves as the climax of the narrative, a moment where Neo fully realizes his newfound capabilities and inner strength.
As Neo battles Agent Smith, it becomes evident that he has transcended his earlier self. The fight is not merely a physical struggle but a symbolic representation of Neo’s evolution from a hesitant and uncertain individual to a formidable force against the oppressive system of the Matrix. His victory over Agent Smith signifies not only his mastery over the simulated world but also his acceptance of his role as “The One,” the prophesized savior (Vogler, 2017).
This moment is pivotal not just for Neo but for the audience as well. It is a cathartic release, a confirmation that the hero has indeed grown and changed significantly throughout the journey. Neo’s breakthrough is a testament to the enduring power of the hero’s journey as a narrative structure, as it emphasizes the hero’s ability to overcome immense challenges and achieve personal growth.
Stage 5: The Return
The fifth and final stage of the Hero’s Journey, known as The Return, represents the hero’s reintegration into their ordinary world, but with a transformed perspective and newfound wisdom. In “The Matrix,” Neo’s return to the Matrix after his confrontation with the machines illustrates this stage vividly.
Neo’s return is not a return to the status quo but rather a transition into a “new normal.” While he re-enters the same simulated reality, his role and outlook have fundamentally shifted. He is no longer a passive participant in the Matrix but an active agent of change. Neo’s return is marked by his determination to free others from the illusion of the Matrix and his commitment to the ongoing struggle against the machines (Campbell, 2017).
This stage underscores a key aspect of the Hero’s Journey: the hero’s responsibility to share the wisdom and knowledge gained during their quest. Neo’s mission is not complete with his victory over Agent Smith; it extends to enlightening others and guiding them toward their own awakenings. Thus, The Return in “The Matrix” serves as a bridge to potential sequels and a continuation of Neo’s heroic journey.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey framework provides a compelling lens through which to analyze and understand narratives. In “The Matrix,” Neo’s journey aligns with the five stages, highlighting his transformation from a reluctant computer programmer to a powerful force challenging the artificial reality of the Matrix. This analysis underscores the enduring relevance of Campbell’s framework in decoding the universal elements of storytelling and character development.
Campbell, J. (2017). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press.
Smith, L. (2018). Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Film. University Press of Mississippi.
Vogler, C. (2017). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions.
Wachowski, L., & Wachowski, A. (Directors). (1999). The Matrix [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.
FAQs on Analyzing “The Matrix” with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Framework:
Q1: What is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey framework?
A1: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey framework is a narrative structure consisting of five stages that help us understand the protagonist’s transformative journey in a story.
Q2: What is “The Matrix,” and why is it relevant to this analysis?
A2: “The Matrix” is a sci-fi film directed by the Wachowskis, known for its complex narrative. It is relevant because it provides an excellent example of how the Hero’s Journey framework can be applied to analyze a character’s growth.
Q3: How does the framework apply to Neo in “The Matrix”?
A3: Neo’s journey in “The Matrix” aligns with the five stages of the Hero’s Journey: The Call, The Search, The Struggle, The Breakthrough, and The Return. This analysis explores how each stage corresponds to Neo’s character development.
Q4: What does the “Call” stage represent in Neo’s journey?
A4: The “Call” stage represents a significant event that summons Neo on a transformative quest, which he initially hesitates to accept.
Q5: How does Neo’s struggle in “The Matrix” relate to the Hero’s Journey framework?
A5: Neo’s numerous challenges and battles, both external and internal, exemplify the “Struggle” stage in the Hero’s Journey, signifying his central conflict.
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