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The Step Not Taken

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Nothing is absolute anymore. Any situation we come across, whether of our own making or facing the unknown, is left for interpretation making them negotiable. There are moments when people encounter crossroads, where they must choose a path. “The step not taken” is a story about a man, who was at a crossroad and chose a path that he regretted soon after and continued to be haunted with guilt. The hero, Paul D’Angelo experienced an epiphany in his story “The step not taken”, where his subconscious acts as his benevolent guide.

His journey will be analyzed through the archetypal theory, where the stages of monomyth will be used to explore his journey. In addition, examples of other characters in different literature will be used to demonstrate the subconscious at play as a benevolent guide. In most cases when an individual encounters a situation where they will have to face the unknown, they run the opposite direction. Paul was faced with a similar dilemma and he, like most people, chose to go the opposite direction.

This can be interrupted as his rejection to the “adventure” or a fear of the unknown. The first stage of monomyth is the seperation stage, where the hero is called to an adventure. When Paul sees a young man step into the elevator in an office building located in Toronto, he states, “There was nothing about him that seemed unusual. Nothing at all to indicate what was about to take place” this shows how he was not aware that things were about to change. However, his initial call to adventure was when he witnessed the young man in the elevator experience a breakdown.

This is where he shows his rejection to a path he should have taken. The moment he steps out of the elevator he stands in the hallway “a bundle of mixed emotions…” and contemplates what to do next. Those questions he asked himself standing in the hallway show a sign of fear and his hesitation. They are also the first sign of his benevolent guide in action. In this case it’s his subconscious. Sometimes when people find themselves in a predicament – without a road map or any sense of direction, they tend to fear the unknown.

While standing out in the hallway Paul asked himself several questions about what to do next, for example “should I risk the embarrassment it might cause him? ” this can be interpreted as him being afraid of the unknown. He was not sure what the outcome would have been if he had gone to the 15th floor and searched the young man out. So he decided to do nothing. During this process he had stepped into the second stage of monomyth – struggle/initiation, during which the hero, Paul D’Angelo, is tested through emotional hardship.

This stage is also where the hero explores his “shadow” side. According to Carl Jung’s theory of analytical psychology the “shadow” is one of the many forces within an individual’s mind. The particular force is part of the unconscious domain; where the person’s deepest fears and terrors exist. Paul’s journey through this stage is shown through his regret and guilt that is demonstrated throughout his story. “And now he haunts me”, is where the second stage of monomyth is established. His emotional hardship is shown through the constant questions Paul continues to ask himself.

He continued to wonder what could have caused that young man to breakdown in tears in front of a complete stranger; could it have been a disease, a family problem, a job or something financial. He continues to stress about what would have happened if he had done something differently or taken a different path. The choices people make during that desperate moment at a crossroad can define the rest of their days. Paul D’Angleo is an example of someone whose days were defined with the decision of walking out of that elevator and not doing anything about what he had witnessed.

In his words, “I should have thrown caution to the winds and done the right thing. Not the big-city thing. The right thing. The human thing… ”. When Paul tells some people about what had happened in the elevator they all advise him that what he did was right and not to spend too much time thinking into it. The advice Paul received from those people can be interrupted as a temptation to delay him from completing his journey. In a way, it was a test of his morals, which he passed when refusing to believe it was true. He told himself they were wrong.

This is his defining moment. This is where he has his epiphany. This is where he fully accepted that what he had done was wrong. “Like so many things in life, I know what I should have done then…” this describes his epiphany, his wakeup call, this shows how the way he thinks has changed and that he is a better person because of it. This defining moment can also be taken as Paul overcoming the “beast”; killing off his old existence and reincarnating his new self. And with the completion of this stage Paul completed his metamorphosis.

Since Paul’s journey was an emotional one there was no need for him to physically go anywhere. Return/reintegration is the final stage of monomyth, where the hero begins this process by refusing to return home. In this case “home” can be interpreted as his old self. So when he completed his metamorphosis with his epiphany Paul also refused to go back to his old self, which can be taken as his refusal to return “home”. This is evident within his epiphany, “Like so many things in life. I know now what I should have done then…Not the big-city thing. The right thing. The human thing…”.

By writing this story he shows his attempt in reintegrating into society with his new knowledge and wisdom. At the end of the story he sends out an apology to the young man; “I hope that somehow he gets to read these words, because I want him to know that I’m pulling for him…That I’m sorry”, which shows that he completed his journey and is a better person because of it. Throughout the story it is evident that Paul’s benevolent guide is his subconscious. Consistently, his subconscious has showed up again and again to either remind him of what he had done or try to influence him to do the right thing.

His guide attempted to assist him, in a positive way, when Paul stepped out the elevator and stood there in the hallway, “a bundle of mixed emotions” while “a combination of guilt and uncertainty washed over”. This guide did not let him forget what he did and filled him with regret and guilt afterwards. When Paul told a couple of people about his incident they all told him he had done the right thing; however, his benevolent guide is there to help him realize “…they are wrong”. His guide had fulfilled its role when Paul experienced his epiphany.

Like many repetitive aspects in life; birthdays, seasons, struggles or even routine schedules, stories, myths, legends, and other forms of literature are evidently the same. There are many examples of someone’s subconscious being their benevolent guide; similar Paul D’Angelo. For instance, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a story about a man’s desperate quest for power; however, his wife Lady Macbeth is one of the most important characters in the story. She is the one that manipulates her husband Macbeth into killing King Duncan so she can become queen of Scotland.

When Macbeth does the deed she goes insane slowly with the guilt of killing King Duncan. A person’s subconscious is where their beliefs and memories are stored and it’s also what controls their emotions; anxiety, anger, fears and most importantly guilt. Similar to Paul D’Angelo’s case, Lady Macbeth’s subconscious did not let her forget or suppress what she had done. She spent her remaining days talking about cleaning her hands from the stain of blood. Paul D’Angelo’s story was about his journey and although it was not the most ideal ending, it is however still an ending. His story was about closure.

His chances of finding that young man again in a city as big as Toronto are very slim. Realizing that, he made an attempt to get closure by writing a story that would hopefully reach him. Having that said, Paul did complete his journey because the point of his journey was mainly the change in his character. Even with all the confusion of life, emotions and uncertainties some people push past it, like Paul did. And he is a better person because of it. His journey led to his epiphany and he would not have gotten there with the help of his benevolent guide; his subconscious.

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