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Teaching the Hero’s Journey of Internal Growth & Development Using Movies
October 24, 2011 by | Posted in English

The Hero’s Journey, also known as Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth,” is a basic paradigm of human behavior that is reflected over and over in myth and art.  It is found in most cultures, transcending language, geography and race.  It is frequently found in Western literature, including the literature of the screen.   Movies like “Star Wars,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and countless adventure stories use the stages and archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

All students grades 6 – 12 will benefit from knowing about the myth, its stages and its archetypes.  Knowledge of the Hero’s Journey will not only allow students to better understand myth and literature, it will allow them to better understand their own experience.

When anyone, a student included, undertakes an endeavor, the challenges encountered will often follow the stages of the Hero’s Journey.  Relationships with many of the people met during the quest will often fit the patterns of interactions between the hero and the archetypes of the Monomyth.

The Hero’s Journey paradigm fits more than just adventures in the outside world.  In most Journeys, the hero must grow in some way or learn an important truth in order to succeed: Luke Skywalker learns to trust the Force and Dorothy learns that the way home is to believe in herself.   In fact, many Heroes’ Journeys are primarily stories of personal growth and development in which the trip taken by the hero is internal.  Any outward trappings of adventure are only the setting for the internal Hero’s Journey.

Examples are:  “Fly Away Home” (a Journey through grief to acceptance of loss), “Big,” (a Journey from the longing to grow up immediately to a realization that there is a time for childhood and that later on there will be a time for being an adult), and “Departures” (overcoming anger at a father who abandoned the hero and his mother when the hero was very young).

Since English teachers focus on themes with meaning for their students, TWM focuses on Heroes’ Journeys of internal growth and development.

TWM’s most recent analysis of a story that uses of the stages and archetypes of the Monomyth is Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck’s Journey is one of internal growth and discovery.  In Huck’s small Missouri hometown, people believed that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible, endorsed by Christianity, and ordained by God.  In fact, before the Civil War, that was the view throughout the South and in much of the North.

During the course of the novel, Huck moves through the stages of the Hero’s Journey to a realization that it’s wrong to hold another human being in bondage.  On his travels, Huck becomes a maturing individual who thinks for himself and acts based on his own beliefs.

Many teachers show “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” the 1993 film starring Elijah Wood, as an entertaining way to complete a unit on the novel. Watching and then discussing the movie can focus students’ minds on the lessons and ideas in the story. Teachers can expand the curriculum beyond a basic “watch and compare” lesson by introducing the concept of the Hero’s Journey.


Before showing the movie, have students read TWM’s student handout entitled “Stages and Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey — Introducing the Monomyth”. Then have students review the Hero’s Journey Film Study Worksheet.  Once the film is completed, students can write formal responses to the prompts on the worksheet, alone or in teams or, in the alternative, formalize the responses as homework.   The movie worksheet can also serve as the basis for discussions in class or even as a test.

Additionally, teachers can turn the assignment into a longer project, requiring formal essays on topics suggested by the worksheet.   Another possibility is for students to present their findings to the class with posters, diagrams, PowerPoint presentations, or even clips from the film to back up their conclusions.

The reward for Huck Finn’s Hero’s Journey is a realization that restates the basic theme of the book.  The stages of the Journey show the changes he goes through in reaching that goal. Teaching the Hero’s Journey with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an effective way to stress the thematic lessons from the classic while demonstrating the Monomyth, a basic way in which people experience the world and a frequent theme in myth and literature.

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2 Responses to “Teaching the Hero’s Journey of Internal Growth & Development Using Movies”

  1. Margaretta says:

    You’ve hit the ball out the park! Inceridble!

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