Despite its brief length, Paul D'Angelo's The Step Not Taken is at its essence a monomyth. Monomyths represent a character's transition from innocence to experience by means of a journey. They are comprised of three stages: separation, struggle, and return and reintegration, and are one of the most widely used archetypes in literature. By being able to identify them, a deeper understanding of the author's message can manifest.
Monomyths are initiated by separation. It is the stage at which a character, usually unwillingly, is pulled from their ordinary life so that they can embark on a journey. When D'Angelo's story begins, he is completely unaware that his life is about to change. It is the man in the elevator that sets his quest in motion. "Typical junior executive material," D'Angelo describes him. "Nothing at all to indicate what was about to take place." It is when the man starts to suddenly weep that D'Angelo is pulled from his daily grind and presented with his quest: to understand responsibility according to the suffering of others. The succession of separation from the ordinary realm and intervention from his benevolent guide is so rapid, so closely linked, that it is difficult to recognize the separation stage at all. As the stages progress, each equally fleeting in duration, the moral of D'Angelo's essay unfolds.
Struggle is the most prolonged stage. It is the juncture at which a character explores their own unconscious domain, and which presents them with hardships and tests. In addition to guiding D'Angelo, the man in the elevator tests him: "Should I go up to the 15th floor and make sure he's okay?" D'Angelo writes. "Should I search him out from office to office?" Faced with the pain of a fellow human being, he wrestles with alternatives. "I didn't know what to do. So I did nothing." D'Angelo fails his test, but the completion of a journey is not necessarily dependant on triumph. In the story of Snow White, the protagonist fails three...
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