The Step Not Taken

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In the essay “The Step Not Taken” by Paul D’Angelo, the narrator takes the reader on his personal journey to find a satisfactory way to respond to another’s suffering. This story follows the basic plot structure of a monomyth: the separation, the struggle and initiation and the return and reintegration. In the beginning of the essay “The Step Not Taken” by Paul D’Angelo, the narrator is in the separation stage of the monomyth.

He is called to adventure when the young junior executive joins him on the elevator. He makes a point of mentioning that there was nothing distinguishing about the young man that would cause him to imagine the events that were about to take place. The essay continues to mirror the structure of the monomyth as the protagonist refuses to accept the call the adventure. When the young man begins to sob, the narrator simply steps off the elevator and leaves him with his own sorrow.

His unwillingness to help is driven by fear and unease as he questions whether the man is mentally disturbed or suicidal; the narrator is unsure how the man would react to the intrusion. At this point the narrators conscience or benevolent guide becomes apparent as he acknowledges that his actions were wrong and he wishes he had shown more caring and empathy. This shows an acceptance of his quest, and he advances to the struggle and initiation phase of the monomyth. In the second phase the protagonist immediately struggles with feelings of regret.

His conscience has him questioning what could have caused such sorrow in the young man, and if he could have improved the man’s situation by reaching out and simply offering to listen to his problems. He takes his concerns to outside parties who tell him his actions were the correct response, attempting to sway him from his ultimate realization or epiphany. By this point the protagonist has realized the people are wrong; he knows he should have strayed from the social norm and reached out to offer help to the man just as he wishes someone would do if his own son were found in the same situation.

As a result, he has an epiphany; he should have done what his conscience and morals were telling him to do, not what social convention was dictating. In the third phase the protagonist experiences the return and reintegration. By composing the essay, the narrator shares his epiphany with the world. He hopes the young man somehow sees the realization that he has come to and knows he regrets his lack of action. By doing this he shares his newfound wisdom with others, hopefully leading them to not make similar mistakes.

The essay “The Step Not Taken” follows the classic plot structure of the monomyth with three clearly outlined parts: the separation, the struggle and initiation and the return and reintegration. The protagonist in the story progresses through each stage, beginning with a selfish and uncaring thought process resulting in a refusal to heed the call to adventure, leading to a struggle with regret, and finally resulting in a life altering epiphany about having compassion for others with simple human actions.

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