Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Plot Analysis

By Joseph Campbell

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Goin' on a Trip

The book doesn't conform to typical narrative forms; it's just a long and kind of rambling discussion about mythology. But the discussion itself focuses on a framework for storytelling that fits the classic plot analysis perfectly.

There's a society in a state of… well, if not decline, at least stuck-in-a-rutness, and it needs some shaking up. Maybe with a dragon, or a plague, or an invading army.

Maybe it's just a dying queen who needs a magic flower to be well again. Whatever the reason, there comes a call, and someone – either a chosen one or just some ordinary shmoe in the right place at the right time – has to answer it. That usually means leaving the safe confines of the home community and venturing into the great unknown.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Fightin', Winnin', Learnin'

Once that great unknown is hit, the hero faces all kinds of challenges and obstacles. Some are big, like dragons in the road. Others are small, like being brave enough to tell your dad off.

Sometimes the hero has help from mystic objects or good buddies she's found on the road. Sometimes, she's gotta do it alone. But every time, the hero learns more, gains more skills, and experiences new parts of the world that she has never seen before.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

The Big Prize

Having faced the final challenge and overcome the final obstacle, the hero finally finds the Big Cheese – the thing that he or she was after the whole time. More often than not, this means dying – or at least symbolically dying – only to be reborn in the light of whatever Awesome the end of the quest has unleashed.

Falling Action

Heading Home

Armed with his fabulous prize (whatever it might be), the hero then zips home – sometimes chased, sometimes not – to make the wrong things right. The path back is a heck of a lot easier than the path forward, since the hero has himself a magic doodad and a whole passel of new skills.

Resolution (Denouement)

Golden Bliss for All!

Returning home, the hero shares the prize with the community he left behind. Sometimes, it's not all bliss. The truth hurts after all, and not everyone may be down with whatever cosmic wisdom the hero has brought back. They may even drive the hero away. But he or she understands both worlds now and can move between them easily.

Maybe someday the squares back home will learn to listen…