Lazarrrrrrrr essay

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Courtney Lazar
Advanced Placement English
Mrs. Martin
17 February 2012
Mulan: The Hero Journey
In mythology, the journey of a hero is an ancient and universal theme. In every culture
from ancient Greece to China, Southeast Asia, and the Americas, heroes have embarked on lifealtering journeys. The hero’s journey, or monomyth, was created and designed by Joseph
Campbell, who divided the journey of the hero into three distinct stages: the Departure,
Initiation, and Return. One example of the monomyth is Disney’s Mulan, directed by Tony
Bancroft and Barry Cook. Mulan is an outcast in a society that values feminine beauty, which is
shown when her father Fa Zhou says, “I know my place. It is time you learned yours” and when
he prays to “help Mulan impress the matchmaker today.” (Mulan). Mulan is a story of a young
Chinese girl who tries to find herself and goes on an adventure to bring honor to her family.
Mulan is an example of a monomyth because it contains a Departure, Initiation, and a Return,
archetypes, and the universal theme of growing up.
The Departure begins with the “call to adventure.” According to Campbell, “the
adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken or who feels there’s
something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members in society.
The person then takes off on a series of adventures to recover what has been lost.” (Campbell
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123). In Mulan, the “call to adventure” is when Shan-Yu leads the Huns to invade China.
Because of the invasion, the Emperor orders a decree stating that one man from every family
must fight in the war against the Huns in order to protect their country. Campbell says that “a
hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” (Campbell 123).
Mulan’s father is hurt from a previous war injury and would not be able to withstand the harsh
environment of a war. Her father’s injury gives her reason to impersonate a soldier to save him
and her family. The second step of the Departure is the “refusal to the call.” The call to war is
originally for Fa Zhou, but Mulan replaces him. She takes the conscription notice, her father’s
armor and weapon along with the horse. The third step in the Departure is “supernatural aid.”
Mulan was given two helpers from her dead ancestors or the “supernatural.” This aid helps her
accomplish her task and acts as her mentor to help her imitate a soldier and eventually save
The next step in the Departure is “crossing the first threshold,” where the hero must cross
the threshold between the world she is familiar with and that which she is not. In Mulan’s case,
the world of adventure is the world of war, and the first threshold is convincing everyone in the
training camp that she is a man. The last step of the Departure is “the belly of the whale,” where
the hero is transformed and becomes ready for the adventure ahead. According to Campbell,
“the belly is where the hero goes in and comes out transformed.” (Campbell 146). The “belly of
the whale” in Mulan is the battles between the Chinese and the Huns while the troops make their
way across the country because she begins to understand the rules of war and becomes ready for
her upcoming adventure.
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The Initiation begins with the “road of trials,” where the hero is challenged to survive a
succession of obstacles and, in doing so, amplifies his/her consciousness. Campbell says that,
“the trials are designed to see to it that the intending hero should be really a hero.” (Campbell
126). The “road of trials” in Mulan is when Captain Li-Shang’s troops realize they are the
Emperor’s only hope and follow the Huns to the Imperial City. The troops understand the
upcoming obstacles and know that they are the Emperor’s only hope, which gives them a sense
of importance. Following the “road of trials” is the “meeting with the goddess.” This step in
Mulan’s journey occurs when Li-Shang discovers that his father is dead and she begins to fall in
love with him. The next step of Initiation is “woman as the temptress,” which is represented as
the revulsion or rejection of a female figure. This temptation is often portrayed as a villain who
attempts to dissuade the hero into thinking it is impossible to complete their journey. An
example of “woman as the temptress” is when Shan-Yu tempts Mulan to give up by making her
feel degraded and weak in their battles. He hits her and acts violently, making her feel helpless
and unimportant and unable to complete her journey.
Following the temptation away from the true path is the “atonement.” This symbolizes
the hero earning a strong sense of judgment and conquering fears that had previously been
holding them back. Mulan’s atonement is when the Imperial scouts discover that she is a
woman. Campbell says that, “the male usually has the more conspicuous role [as hero].
(Campbell 125). Despite the fact that she is left in the cold, Mulan becomes stronger and comes
to the realization that she can still save China even though she is a woman. She is beating the
odds in reference to myth and Chinese society. The next stage of Initiation is “apotheosis,”
where the hero enters a god-like state. This occurs in Mulan after the ultimate boon when the
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Emperor bows to Mulan, followed by the entirety of the country bowing to her, making her feel
powerful. The Initiation generally ends with the “ultimate boon.” This is the part of the journey
in which the hero completes their mission and is rewarded for their good works. Mulan follows
the hero myth because she successfully saves the Emperor from Shan-Yu and in return the
Emperor presents the sword of Shan-Yu and the crest of the Emperor as gifts to honor the Fa
The final stage of the monomyth is the Return of the Hero. The first step of the Return is
the “refusal to return.” This refusal, however, does not take place in Mulan. Instead, she
respectfully declines the Emperor’s job offer so that she may return home and remain with her
family. When it is decided that the hero will return home, the “magic flight” is in order. This is
how the hero returns to their homeland. Mulan follows the hero myth because the “magic flight”
is her horse. The next step in the Return is the “rescue from without.” This step, which is quite
self explanatory, is when the hero becomes trapped on their way home and needs help to be
saved. This step occurs in Mulan when Shan-Yu and Mulan are fighting on the roof of the
Emperor’s palace and Mushu helps her escape. This is an example of “rescue from without,”
because she becomes trapped on her way home and needs help to be able to return home.
The “crossing of the final threshold” shows the hero’s return to their home. When the
hero crosses the final threshold, they are fully transformed. Mulan returns to her home with the
gifts from the Emperor seeking forgiveness from her family. Her father continues to tell her “the
greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.” (Mulan). The “crossing of the final
threshold” shows the transformation of Mulan from a young and dishonorable girl to a strong,
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independent woman. The next step in the monomyth is the hero becoming a “master of the two
worlds.” Mulan comes to recognize and appreciate the importance of honoring her family as well
as knowing the cruelty of war. The final step in the hero’s journey is the ‘’freedom to live.” This
is when the hero loses all fear of death, thus embracing life. Campbell says that the “conquest of
fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy.” This is shown when she invites Shang to stay for
dinner. Mulan follows the hero myth because she is living in the moment, neither dwelling on
the past nor concerned about the future.
Mulan is filled with archetypal hero(in)es, vile villains, and the friendly beast. Mulan
defies the image of the passive oriental female. She is a woman warrior; a classic character type
in Chinese culture and film who is an independent outsider, resolute and aggressive in her efforts
to institute correct order. However, it is important to realize that Mulan is refused recognition as
“warrior” and therefore entry into the discourse of (male) power, until she reconstructs her
feminine self into a masculine form. She is not only the heroine because she accomplished her
mission of saving her men, the Emperor, and all of China, but by beating the odds and defeating
the gender prejudices in Chinese society. The villain in Mulan is Shan-Yu. A villain must be
involved in or devoted to a wickedness or crime. Shan-Yu is the leader of the Huns. He speaks
with a dark voice and shows no pity, attacking anyone in his way. He and the Huns are coming
for the Emperor in order to rule China and, according to Shan Yu, "not even China's greatest
troops will be able to stop them." (Mulan). Shan-Yu follows the villain archetype because he
destroys whatever is in his way to accomplish his mission. Shan Yu and a number of his troops
take the Emperor hostage and are later defeated by Mulan.
Mushu is the "Friendly Beast." He
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was assigned as Mulan's guardian by her ancestors. He protects her when needed and is her
"most trusted friend" because he is always there for her and guides her throughout her journey.
In Mulan, the Western theme of seeking one's own identity surfaces. Campbell says that,
“the adventure is symbolically a manifestation of his character.” (Campbell 129). In the movie,
Mulan is depicted to be a very attractive, but also a clumsy girl, who always seems to be
disappointing her father. Her family tries to marry her off, but when she goes to see the
matchmaker, it ends up a disaster, causing dishonor to her family. At this point, Mulan does not
know what to do because by being herself, she disappoints her family. This is shown when
Mulan says, "When will my reflection show, who I am inside?" (Mulan). The invasion of the
Huns causes the Emperor to order a decree stating that one man from every family must fight in
the war against the Huns in order to protect their country. Mulan takes her father's stead,
disguising herself as a man. She does this to prove her love for her father and to go on a journey
to find herself. Going through the journey, Mulan learns the quality of honor as well as the
cruelty of war. When she returns home from saving the Emperor and being the hero of China,
she is fully transformed from a young and dishonorable girl to a strong, independent woman. She
also accomplished her main goal of bringing honor to her family.
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Works Cited
Campbell, Joseph. Moyers, Bill. “An Interview with Joseph Campbell.” The Power of Myth.
New York: Doubleday, 1988. Print.
Mulan. Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook. Performers: Ming-Na, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong.
Pixar, Walt Disney Pictures, 1998.