Analysis of Suelo and Strayed using Monomyth
Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero, Monomyth, found in his monumental book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, argues that a hero’s journey begins from the ordinary world to receiving a call to enter the unknown world with strange powers and events, until he finishes his quest and returns to his community. This theory has been quite influential in analyzing heroes. Some aspects of this theory can be found in the two books under review, The Man Who Quite Money by Mark Sundeen and Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. The monomyth contains 17 steps through which most heroes go through. However, the hero characters in these two books, Suelo and Strayed do not go all of the steps, but a few.
At the start of a hero’s journey, is the ordinary world where it begins. According to Campbell, a hero’s journey will begin where he is born and raised. Daniel Suelo in The Man Who Quite Money portrays this aspect considering he was born and raised in a normal world. In this book, the normal world is considered the daily things that people do everyday. This includes going to school from a young age until college, undertaking formal employment of any other kind of work in order to earn money. Money represents the order of modern world enshrined in capitalism under which every person has to abide. As such, the first journey of a hero is fulfilled in this book by looking at the life Suelo leads before deciding to live without money (Campbell 4).
Just as Suelo starts in a normal world before engaging his journey to find the true essence of soul, so does Cheryl Strayed in Wild. Strayed starts in a normal life where she is born and raised as any other person. The only difference is that she was raised by two different mothers (Strayed 4). She undertook normal activities such as going to school and having friends. Campbell sites that all heroes start their life in the normal world before getting their call to enter a world of adventure filled with supernatural beings and events.
After living a normal life, heroes get a calling to enter into a world of adventure. In most cases, the journey of the hero is centered on a purpose. Campbell cites that, “almost invariably every story, myth, legend, saga, and folktale begins with a poignant question of one kind or another,” (xvii). The journey into the adventure world starts with the need to fulfill answers to a question. For instance, Odysseus entered the world of adventure with the question of how he could ever find home again.
In the case of Suero, the question was what life means without money. Rather, the hero in the story sought to answer how it would be like to abandon money and live by what the world offers free. For quite sometime before embarking on his journey, Suelo asked this question repeatedly several times. After entering this world of adventure, which means a world without money, Suelo is able to answer his questions, where he cites, “I know it is possible to live with zero money,” (Sundeen 4). The same sway, other heroes in heroic stories are able to answer the question posed at them at the beginning of their adventurous journey. Odysseus is able to find his answer when he arrives home in Ithaca.
In the case of Strayed, the question presented was one seeking ones soul. Her life was filled with sadness and sorrow after loosing her mother at 22 years of age while her biological father had left her life when she was six. Her stepfather had since deserted her life after the death of her mother. Her two siblings scatted in grief. Her reason for embarking on the adventurous journey in Pacific Crest Trail was to find herself again. After this journey, she was able to find the woman she would become. Campbell further argues that one receives a call in many forms such as through new information. In Strayed case, she got information about the Pacific Crest Trail from a book. Although she had always heard of it, she had not been there. She decided to embark on this journey after reading the book.
The ordinary world is not necessarily the usual world. Rather, it signifies the daily activities and life a hero is engaged in. It can be unnatural to us. In the case of Suelo and Strayed, the ordinary world of the heroes is the usual world we know. The heroes are engaged in the usual activities that other people are such as going to school and working. In Campbell’s theory, the first part of the journey is separation from this ordinary world. The hero is separated from his usual activities to enter into the world of adventure. In this part, the beginning is a call to adventure, followed by refusal, then acceptance, aid from supernatural being, crossing the first threshold and then entering the belly of the whale.
Although Campbell cites several methods through which are heroes are called to their tasks, he recognizes that some heroes choose to go down their adventure out of their own volition. In this case, the two heroes chose to engage in their adventure out of their won wish. Suelo chose to leave the world of money to live in the caves (Sundeen 5). Although he works, he does not accept money for it. Strayed also chooses to embark on this journey.
The second step of a hero’s journey in this part is the refusal to the call. He cites that majority of the heroes refuse to embark on the adventure out of fear, insecurity or feeling inadequate. Several ranges of reasons are available as to why future heroes are reluctant to enter the world of adventure. However, the two heroes in these books do not refuse to enter the world of adventure. They chose their paths without anybody pushing them.
After engaging in the event, the hero is assisted by a supernatural creature. The help can be in form of information and advice on what is ahead of the journey. “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass,” (Campbell 4). Such creatures serve to show the protective power of destiny and a reassurance that peace that was initially known or what the hero seeks to regain should not be lost.
The following steps within this part are the first threshold and belly of the whale. In the threshold part, the hero is given some sought of power by a threshold guardian. In the belly of the whale, this is where the hero gets deep into the world of adventure and one can think they are dead. It is here they find whom the really are.
Suelo world of adventure is one without money, while for Strayed is the Pacific Crest Trail that is filled with dangers. These heroes do not correspond fully with the separation part considering that they do not get into a world that has never been explored. Suelo’s world is different only in the sense he chooses to live a different lifestyle. Strayed on the other hand is only entering a world that others have entered. Therefore, these heroes do not correspond with the separation part fully considering they do not receive any calling. The only way they correspond with separation is through entering into other worlds that are different from the usual ones.
The second part of the schema is initiation that is at the center of the others. However, these parts of steps found within them doe not have to follow the theory systematically. Instead, some mix up the steps and parts, depending on each story. This is the part is concerned with all the trials and tests, danger, that a hero goes through during his journey. It starts with the road of trials where the hero goes from test to test. He cites that, “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials,” (Campbell 7).
In the case of Suelo, the adventure he decides to take on is filled with different challenges everyday. One of the main trials in his journey is finding food to eat from the forest, people who give willingly and leftovers from landfills. He relies on what is provided free. However, these experiences are different from the ones Campbell describes in an archetypal or mythical hero. The kind of trials found in a mythical hero’s story are filled with supernatural events, ordeals and miraculous as well. In this story, Suelo is just living in the caves without money, which is not ordinary but nothing supernatural happens. Everything is still within the usual things that others might have gone through. For a mythical hero, the events have events described are out of this world, those that have never been experienced.
Strayed also faces different trials of during her journey. She has to carry a heavy camping bag and several necessities for survival (Strayed 66). She experiences different trials everyday such as having to walk without shoes when one of her boots fall from a cliff on a mountain and she cannot retrieve it. She decides to toss the other. Unlike Suelo, Strayed is assisted by other people who were on the trail with her. At different points, she found stages where she could rest and take some supplies. This also does not qualify for a mythical story considering there are no supernatural or miraculous events in this trail. In addition, others have attempted the trail.
Other steps within this part such as meeting with the goddess do not occur in the two stories. The meeting with the goddess means an important point when one experiences an unconditional love from a powerful being. However, none of the two heroes meets with a goddess to experience such kind of love. Either the only creatures these heroes meet are other human beings who help them, or whom they are friends. The other part is woman as temptress, which means the things that could tempt one to go off course from their purpose. In mythical heroes, this temptation is often presented as a woman such as in the story of Samson and Delilah. The final step of this part is atonement with the father, who holds all the power. This step represents meeting with a person with incredible power. In the case of the two heroes, there is no father figure with incredible powers. Finally, the hero gets his boon, which he takes home. Meaning achievement of the main goal, or getting one really went to seek. For Suelo, he sought to live without money and he achieved. For strayed, she sought to find herself, which she later did after the journey (Sundeen 45).
The final part of the theory is the return to the ordinary world. “When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy,” (Campbell 13). This means that the heroes get a life transforming reward. In the case of Suelo and Strayed, each gains their own reward, which is inner satisfaction. After quitting money, Suelo is happy to live in the caves, which was his life changing reward. However, he did not plan to go back to the ordinary world. He has chosen this as his life, and for more than a decade, he has continued to live this way. Unlike Suelo, Strayed returns to the ordinary world and continues living as she did before, but as a changed person.
Campbell would not think that Suelo and Strayed hero stories are mythical. This
is because they lack one of the most important factors in presenting a mythical
hero, which is use of supernatural world, events, creatures and help. Unlike
other heroic stories, these seem to be happening in the ordinary world.
According to Campbell,
the world of adventure is separated from other people. It is considered unnatural
and has never been explored. However, the two heroes under analysis have
entered their adventure in ordinary places, where ordinary people are seen.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with A Thousand Faces. New York, N.Y: New World Library, 2008. Print.
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild. New York, N.Y: Vintage, 2013. Print.
Sundeen, Mark. The Man Who Quit Money. New York, N.Y: Riverhead Trade, 2012. Print.