Initiatory Journeys

9 September 2016

Traveling has always fascinated men who fed their imagination with this way of escaping the reality of their society. But this is only the first meaning of the word “travel” because it can also take other equally exotic aspects. So we talked about the trip as a physical escape but what about the travel seen as a mental loophole? So traveling could be a way of getting out the entrapment of reality, of the actual situation. But to what aim?

Perhaps to escape unemployment and find work or to escape from the weight of the flesh when the journey is mental. The trip can also lead to a moment of epiphany: then it would carry an interesting initiatory dimension. The journey can be seen as a wandering, a roaming during which the traveler is free, or considered as being free just because he can venture in wild nature but he is often prompted by material reasons more than urged by the desire to entertain himself. Indeed, this travel we could envy is often considered as an ordeal from the protagonist’s point of view.

Initiatory Journeys Essay Example

In Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, published in 1937, George and Lenny bemoan their harsh living conditions as itinerant workers and plan what they call their freedom, which is their settlement in a real house that would be theirs. Journey is a term that implies travel, which can offer up new insights, experiences, cultures and perspectives. In the novel, the writer takes us into the American outback, and we journey with the characters as they face the various challenges and barriers that arise as they attempt to achieve the “great American dream”: settling down and farming their own land.

So the characters travel physically speaking (it is actually an exile because it seems that they are wanted by the authorities), trying to find work on ranches. But the inner and emotional journey they do all through the novel is far more significant, and we see the changes in the characters from the first time we are introduced to them. So, we have seen that a physical journey can shape the soul of the traveler whose intellectual trip makes ?? him pass through milestones of his ripeness. Here comes what might be called the initiatory dimension of traveling, which could then allow the traveler to enter a new phase of his life.

The protagonist descends into his innermost cave, a kind of underworld located in his own mind. The hero, most of the time under the effect of an epiphany, is reborn in some way, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Through this experience, he changes internally. That is the case of Nick, the protagonist of “Indian Camp”, a short story written by the American author Ernest Hemingway and published in 1924. This story is a good example of the “initiation story”, a short story that centers around a main character who comes into contact with an idea, experience, ritual, or knowledge that he did not previously know.

In this story, Nick Adams is a very young boy accompanying his father and his uncle to an American Indian camp on the other side of a lake. Here, as a “rite of passage”, Nick is initiated into concepts that remained of highest importance to Hemingway throughout his writing career, life and death, suffering, pain, suicide… The fact that Nick sits across from his father in the boat on the way back after this experience can indicate a pulling out from underneath his father’s influence. “Indian camp” starts “off in the dark”.

This dark engulfs Nick as he begins his journey on an unknowing night that parallels his own lack of awareness. By the end of the narrative, the light of a new day rises, and with it, an epiphany within Nick. His experiences within the Indian camp have caused him to grow as a person and Hemingway’s usage of light symbolizes this new understanding gained by Nick. So, a journey can be motivated by financial or cultural reasons and can lead to different aftermaths but can’t it be pointless, aimless and totally unfounded?

Perhaps it is the case of the protagonist of “The mark on the wall”, a short story by Virginia Woolf published in 1917. Indeed, a woman in the living room of her house and her attention is drawn to a mark on the wall that leads her to wonder what the mark is, and what it might signify. Then, we will follow her stream of consciousness through many metaphysical issues. Her stream of thoughts will herd her to such topics as what the meaning of life is and others existential questionings.

She mentally travels and we, readers, follow this purely intellectual journey wandering through the haphazard meanders of her fancies. The twist is that the mark is actually a snail glued on the wall. I arrive to the quite enigmatic conclusion that travel seems to be multifaceted and could overlap many causes and consequences. Even after this succinct analysis, it remains a mysterious world that will continue to make men dream and fantasize.

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