Study Guide

The Sound of Music Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

When the movie opens, Maria's a flighty young girl who's studying to be a nun. She's extremely likeable and sweet, but she's not very good at adhering to the rules and traditions of the abbey.

Call To Adventure

Since Maria isn't really fitting in at the abbey, the Reverend Mother decides that she needs to do something to help Maria find her path. Seems that God's will, at least temporarily, is to send her to help out a widower named Captain von Trapp, who needs help with his seven children.

Refusal Of The Call

At first, Maria isn't too keen on the idea of leaving the abbey—or going to care for seven kids—so she argues with the Reverend Mother. But you can't fight City Hall or God's will, so she ultimately agrees. As she travels to the von Trapp house, she tries to convince herself that she can handle this new challenge.

Meeting The Mentor

The Reverend Mother is really Maria's most important mentor, since she consistently pushes Maria to face challenges rather than avoid them. That's exactly what she's doing in sending Maria to the von Trapps.

Once Maria has arrived at her new post, we'd say that the children end up mentoring her regarding the ways of the house—and, in particular, their father. They clue her into the fact that their father doesn't like for them to sing, which of course encourages Maria to change his mind.

Crossing The Threshold

With Captain von Trapp off in Vienna, Maria gets right to work making big changes in the household. She makes play clothes for the kids out of her old curtains (they've only been wearing uniforms), and she teaches them how to sing. They have a ball running around Salzburg singing, dancing, climbing trees, and boating.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

The party's over when the captain comes home and finds his kids dressed in old curtains and behaving (in his view) wildly. He's particularly honked off because he's brought his classy girlfriend the baroness with him to meet the kids. He and Maria argue, and she gets canned.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Wouldn't you know, though. Right after the captain fires Maria, he hears his children singing one of the songs Maria taught them to welcome the baroness. He almost goes into a trance, realizing that he's been keeping his kids at a distance and sucking all the joy out of their lives and his own.

He begs Maria to stay, and from that point on there's a lot more music, fun, and laughter in the house. Maria's role in the household has become really important, as Max acknowledges when he says he'll have to use Maria's sway with the captain to convince Georg to let the kids sing in public. You could think of Maria's relationship with the captain as the Inmost Cave, where the mystery and challenge of love dwells.


The baroness sees Maria and Georg's connection and realizes they're in love, even if they don't know it yet. She seems to assume that if she draws Maria attention to Georg's feelings, the girl will be mortified and remove herself from the family—and of course, that's exactly what happens. Maria runs back to the abbey, which devastates the kids (and Maria, too).

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Wise mentor that she is, the Reverend Mother doesn't let Maria hide from her problems. Once she finds out Maria's reasoning for leaving the von Trapps, she insists that she go back and figure out whether she and the captain really have feelings for each other.

When she goes back, she discovers that the captain and the baroness are engaged—but the baroness quickly realizes that the captain's feelings for Maria aren't going away and skedaddles. With that barrier out of the way, Maria and the captain finally admit their feelings for each other and decide to get married.

Finally, it looks like everyone has what s/he wants and needs. The kids have a stepmother they adore, Maria has found a life of meaning with the von Trapps, and the captain's previously cold, dead heart is now alive with the sound of music.

The Road Back

Unfortunately, the bliss doesn't last long. The Nazis annex Austria while Maria and Georg are on their honeymoon, and the happy couple returns to find that the occupying forces have taken the liberty of hanging the Nazi flag over their front door—and that Georg has been "offered" a commission in the German naval forces. Georg has no intention of working with the Nazis, but it would also be extremely dangerous to refuse the job.


The von Trapps decide to flee that night, but their plans get (briefly) thwarted when Herr Zeller and some other Nazis show up outside their house as they're trying to sneak away. The captain manages to delay Herr Zeller's plan to take him to his new post by saying he needs to sing with his family in the folk festival that evening.

Return With The Elixir

The von Trapps get to say a musical goodbye to their beloved Austria (and pump up some Austrian nationalist sentiments) while singing at the festival. While the Nazis think the von Trapps are waiting backstage to hear the prizes being awarded, the family slips out. They hide at the abbey at first before escaping into the mountains to safety and freedom.