The New First Step: Why Displacement is Crucial for Heroism

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

In previous blog posts, I have mentioned the term “displacement” as a necessary and crucial step for the hero’s journey. To become heroic, the individual chooses to rise above their predicament and achieve an innate sense of self. In this post, I will explain how displacement functions in heroic tales and how to recognize the value of displacement in our own lives.

Why Displacement?

If we look at the “steps” that are usually within the hero monomyth, it usually starts out with the “Call to Adventure,” which can also be looked at as the “Initiation” part of the adventure for the hero’s journey. However, the hero must get out of his or her comfort zone before he or she can receive “the call” to be “out-of-place” or “dis-placed.” This displacement can be physical, psychological, and/or literal.

Once you notice that everyone at some point in their life has been displaced, you can start to recognize this concept pop up in a majority of narratives. For instance, displacement can be seen easily in fairy tales such as Cinderella[1]and Beauty and the Beast[2]. I know there are many versions of these two stories, but I will just talk about the general premise of each. Cinderella is displaced within her own home and given a demeaning name. Beauty offered herself in her father’s place in the Beast’s castle away from her family and literally becomes displaced from her home. However, Cinderella (with magical help) went to the ball, rebelled against her step-family, and lived happily ever after, even owning up to her name as it has now empowered her. Beauty learned about the true nature of the Beast as a kind soul (through dreams) and ironically found freedom within the midst of the enchanted castle as it became her new home. These heroines may not have been in ideal circumstances, but they learned what they needed in order to manage their situation and rise up stronger and more capable than ever.

Understanding Displacement

Displacement in hero stories shows that it is possible to persist in the direst of circumstances. Stories about fairy tale heroes are essentially about humans attempting to understand and survive in the world because these stories appeal to an audience even if the audience did not have the same experience. However, stories evoking the collective unconscious through heroism remain essential to understanding the world since humans are constantly displaced. The heroines in fairy tales (and many other narratives—think about Sansa and Arya Stark in Game of Thrones[3]) reveal how these narratives are tales of human fortitude. Many fairy tale plots gain momentum when the hero or heroine enters the woods (or a magical castle), which then becomes transformed into an area of enchantment, danger, and even discovery. This displacement is what really propels the heroine to realize her own agency within the narrative and in her own life. Because the heroine recognizes what has happened and strives to do her best in her situation, she realizes that her displacement was for her highest good and crucial to her development as a human being.

However, if these heroines were to become destructive to themselves or others, then they would not realize the possibilities of their own heroism—they become unheroic. Only those who rise to their predicament become heroic because they do more than just conquer their foes and their fears—they understand their undeniable resilience to the displacement.

Working with Displacement

Because displacement is a common theme in hero stories, it is therefore important for heroism and for life. Since we as humans are constantly being displaced, we must work with our displacement so we can transcend to better understand ourselves and the world around us. We can never avoid being uncomfortable. And the world may not live up to our ideals. But in an attempt to avoid discomfort and disappointment, we ultimately avoid the chance to empower ourselves. This is when you can choose to be heroic. To get to the state of transcendence after displacement, the choice is yours to see your displacement’s greater potential. Everyone has the opportunity to grow from their displacement, to express the profound freedom and love that comes from staring reality straight in the face and finding a creative way to manage that reality. In this way, you don’t lose yourself—you discover your amazing potential for greatness already inherent within you.

Remember, the meaning behind these important hero stories explores how to live life to the fullest even when displaced, shifted, challenged, and questioned in life. Since each journey is unique to a hero’s situation, every displacement will feel and look different. However, even though displacement can be an ever-occurring cycle, it is never final. It’s uncomfortable, but like many painful feelings, it does not last forever. Like Rilke states, “Just keep going.” Unearth the heroic greatness within, for it is already yours to discover.

As always, if you want to continue the discussion, or have questions about the ideas of displacement and heroism, feel free to tweet me @imelda_corazon with #heromusings. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!


[1] I love the fact that many modern books have taken these classical fairy tales and added their own displacement twists. Click on the links to see one of my favorite Cinderella-esque story.

[2] East of the Sun and West of the Moon is such an iconic story that has similar themes to Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche. The link is Kay Nielsen’s beautiful illustrations of the story on Amazon.

[3] If you are on a Game of Thrones let down like me, I have provided a YouTube link to History and Lore of the Game of Thrones universe. These were originally in the Blue-Ray versions of the series and are accessible on YouTube. Such great visuals and storytelling from the actors playing their characters.

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