An essay that I will be examining through the framework of a monomyth archetype is “The Step Not Taken” by Paul D’Angelo in which he recollects his thoughts and emotions after a Toronto-based event in which he is faced with a young man in an elevator who suddenly and without provocation breaks down in tears, thus putting the author’s public persona that he carries for strangers at odds with his inner ego and sense of social self-worth. The questions that the author has explored in the essay were “Why has the man started crying? , “What should or could have the narrator done to help? ” and “What might the man’s reaction have been if the narrator have done anything differently? ”. In this essay, I will assign the author a role of a classic archetypical hero and explore his inner journey that began due to broken social behavioural norms through the grander prism of a monomyth – first paragraph will shine a light on author’s separation from the ordinary, the sudden actions of a stranger that have unwittingly propelled the hero to partake an deep inner journey and re-examine his inner values.
In the second paragraph I will examine author’s inner struggle that is present throughout the entire essay and lastly, Next, I will overview author’s return and self-balancing reintegration during which he has time to reflect and ponder what could have gone differently in the aforementioned encounter. The closing paragraph will deal with more personal aspects of the essay and examine author’s thoughts and epiphany when viewed through a humane and empathetical social position rather than a tale of an archetypical grandiose hero on a spiritual and emotional journey.
Also read The Story of an Eyewitness Essay Analysis
The initial story begins with a quite an ordinary event that is common to all city-dwellers – an elevator ride with a stranger. The author at first assumes a role of a neutral observer in ordinary realm, perhaps maybe with a gist of Sherlock Holmes-like ability to notice finer details on strangers. After a description of the fellow elevator rider, we are introduced to the event that thrusts the narrator in the realm of adventure or uncertainty.
While it would be rather rude to perceive a sad and emotional non-fictional encounter in which a grown man suddenly breaks down into tears as a call for an adventure, the narrator has positioned himself as a hero of the story who is faced with a certain emotional obstacle that he must overcome. We, as impartial readers, may assume that as soon as the hero has in any way, shape or form internally accepted the event that has thrust him out of his ordinary environment into the realm of new experiential learning, a quest to return home with some sort of new knowledge or experience has begun.
As soon as the hero has accepted his quest, we can fully affirm that the monomythical act of separation has occurred and the hero has began his experiential journey. In Paul D’Angelo’s essay, his initial “benevolent guide” that has placed him on his journey, and the one that he chose to call upon when faced with an unusual circumstance, is surprisingly enough, a set of ephemeral rules and regulations that he called “typical Toronto elevator etiquette”. These guidelines, if personified, would perfectly fill the niche of a magical goddess being or a guide that many classic heroes would rely upon in their decision making process.
After the initial unspoken interaction between two strangers in the elevator, the narrator has been tasked with accepting his quest of something I would call a “reactionary”, as in, the person who reacts to an irritant, if I were to use a scientific lingo. At this point, whether the narrator liked it or not, he has fully accepted his quest of deciding which social role he would play – a good Samaritan who expresses some sort of empathy to a fellow human being in distress or an actor who chooses to pretend that nothing unusual is happening and carries on with his “act” that he has planned beforehand – leaving the elevator car at floor ten.
That is, in many ways, his first and final test on his very short journey from floor one to floor ten. In the timep of seconds, the hero had to decide whether or not he will give in his “shadow” and will play it safe by ignoring the troubled man or whether he will become an empathetical being who would share the pain of a stranger. Lastly, we are presented with myriad of questions that the author has posed to himself throughout and after the entire ordeal. It would seem to me that it is at this stage the author has entered his “inner sanctum” where he could reflect on his social quest.
Halfway through the essay the narrator states that “the few people I have told about the incident all say I did the proper thing” which suddenly shifts the entire story away from the elevator scene and somewhere safe where our hero had time to think and reflect on his experience. This is the end point of his journey, as he has returned home where he he had assumed a position of a more experienced individual who has acquired new social wisdom and has shared his knowledge to others, a final part of the monomythical cycle.
This entire journey and reflective questions has reminded me of a inner journey undertaken by Jack London’s White Fang, where the story follows a wolf pup who explores his surroundings and when taken into care by humans, tries to learn the humans ways and similar to our elevator hero, tries to figure out whether to show empathy to another being’s suffering or stay safe and at home. While there is no question that a emotional journey did take place, it is hard to say whether the protagonist has actually completed his social quest or not.
Sure, there were many questions that he has raised to himself, but they were never fully answered. To me, numerous questions without clear answers show that the narrator has not fully integrated the experience that has caused him to raise the concerns about himself or the weeping stranger. Author’s final epiphany regarding doing the “right thing” and not the “big-city thing” reflects back to the idea of taking the “elevator etiquette” as his guide at the time of need.
Sure, there are time where one needs to play the ignorance card, but thinking that feeling unempathic towards your fellow commuter is something that big cities are abundant with is a very wrong stance to take, in my opinion. Perhaps, it is a “men don’t cry” stereotype that was at play here and it is very much debatable whether one should keep up the image or try to break down such notions.
While such stereotype is still relevant to today’s world, I disagree with the author that there is a clear cut answer as to what he should have done in his encounter, but the fact that he did write his essay shows to me one important thing – he did want to show some sort of support to the stranger in need. It is just that in modern day and age, we more often than not have too little time and disposition to thoughtfully and timely react to an event that might be only several seconds long, but may haunt us for a lifetime.
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