The Feminine Journey, Part Two
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
This is the stage Schmidt calls “The Eye of the Storm”: the all-too-brief pause between hardships on the heroine’s journey. While this roughly matches the Three-Act Structure’s midpoint, there’s no twist to recontextualize everything. Instead, it’s a quiet moment where the heroine can decompress and reflect on everything she’s accomplished on her quest. “She gets a small taste of success,” says Schmidt, “however false, which will later fuel her motive to succeed again, knowing how wonderful success feels. She feels safe for the time being.”13 That safety is short-lived, however, as the heroine will soon be tested again. To survive those tests, she’ll need all the energy she’s gained during this little moment of relief.
Celeste’s moment of relief comes when Madeline and Theo make camp after escaping the Mirror Temple. Madeline has just faced down three complex emotions—guilt, fear, and self-loathing—and she’s ready for a break. She opens up to Theo about Badeline, as well as some of her own emotional struggles, and he shares more of himself in return. He also points out that Madeline lives deep inside her head, which echoes Madeline’s reason for climbing the mountain. She did it not just to prove that she could, but to stop fixating on things that don’t matter and get out of her own head. Talking to Theo helps her realize that, and she resolves to take another important step: getting rid of Badeline once and for all.
The Crisis; the All-is-Lost Moment; the Ordeal. This moment goes by many names in many structures, but it always represents the same thing: near-total defeat. The Death step in Schmidt’s Feminine Journey is no different, as it represents the largest setback on the quest for change. Schmidt calls this stage a ‘reversal,’ adding: “[The villain] feels threatened by her accomplishments and means to destroy her. He sees that her inner turmoil is doing half of the job for him. All he needs to do is give her a push, cut her down, and strengthen her weaknesses.”14 Even if the forces of antagonism are societal or figurative, this is their moment to coalesce and force the heroine down to her lowest point. Only from there can she be reborn anew.
Celeste kicks off its Death moment with a meeting between Madeline and Badeline. Madeline, operating under the mistaken belief that she has mastered her emotions, tells Badeline that she’s cruel, paranoid, and controlling: the parts of Madeline she needs to leave behind. While Madeline sees this as a positive thing, Badeline is outraged at the thought of being abandoned. She lashes out, overwhelming Madeline’s emotions, and casts Madeline to the mountain’s base. Madeline is both figuratively and literally at her lowest point ever: now, there is nowhere for her to go but up.
Schmidt’s seventh stage, Support, begins the third act with a noticeably different approach: the protagonist learns to work with others. “The female journey includes the relation between the individual and the group…She accepts others as they are and embraces the female aspect of supporting one another. She begins to see the oneness that we all share together.”15 This essential commitment to the group separates the feminine journey from the masculine one, as masculine heroes are often encouraged to fight alone. Even if the protagonist is not female, they can still follow this step in their own feminine journey by finding themselves, then sharing their growth for the good of others.
In Celeste, Madeline reaches the support step when she reunites the old woman from the bottom of the mountain, who tells her to talk to Badeline and ‘figure out why she’s so scared.’ It’s the first time Madeline’s thought about Badeline’s perspective, so she decides to give it a try. After an extended chase sequence, she catches Badeline at the base of the mountain, and they finally talk. Badeline, admitting defeat, says she’ll try to get out of Madeline’s life, but Madeline has a new idea: she wants to work together. At first, Badeline can’t believe it, but Madeline convinces her that they’re both essential parts of the same whole, and Badeline finally agrees. With well-wishes from Theo and the old woman, Madeline and Badeline team up to begin their ascent together.
Having risen from the ashes of defeat, the heroine is born anew as a complete person. Her allies are beside her, and her dreams are ahead of her, and she has everything she needs to reach them. “She sees the big picture of life and realizes she can’t ever go back to the woman she once was, and she doesn’t want to,” says Schmidt. “…She isn’t afraid to die because she realizes she was already dead in the perfect world…She can’t believe she ever considered giving up during the descent.”16 By confronting her deepest emotional wounds and learning to accept help from the group, the heroine has finally broken free from the illusion that kept her down in step one. She couldn’t go back there even if she wanted to.
Celeste’s Rebirth step shows Madeline and Badeline working together as a team to scale the mountain. As they climb through each area, they find the trip is much better when they’re not fighting each other. They’ve gotten stronger and faster, and their cooperation helps them reach places they could have never gone before. They also come to understand each other and apologize for not trusting each other. Although they were terrified of each other, in the end, they wanted the same thing: happiness. Now that they’re working together, they can finally embrace it and reach the mountaintop.
In the Feminine Journey, the final step is as much a beginning as it is an end. It’s the step where the heroine returns to her old world as a changed person. However, the world may not have changed alongside her; in all likelihood, it still presents the same challenges it did before. The heroine’s goal is now to navigate this old world as someone new. “Just because [the heroine] has attained her goal and changed her life doesn’t mean society has changed right along with her,” says Schmidt. “There will still be tyrants, ogres, racists, and sexists in the world; she’s just more equipped to deal with those obstacles now.”17 Fortunately, the heroine can also serve as an inspiration for others in her group who are trapped in illusions of their own, motivating them to take their own journeys. And when they return, they’ll also be equipped to face old challenges with a new mindset, and the group will change and grow for the better. Therein lies the beauty of the Feminine Journey: the last step on one person’s quest may be the first step on someone else’s.
Celeste reaches its final step when Madeline and Badeline climb down the mountain, having reached the peak together. They both have a new perspective on life, and they’re eager to listen to each other. Even though Badeline will disappear back inside Madeline when the mountain is behind them, she’ll always persist as a part of Madeline, and they’ll succeed as long as they work together. It’s that wisdom that they bring down the mountain with them, where they meet with the old woman, Theo, and Mr. Oshiro, who congratulate them on completing their journey. To celebrate, they all gather together and eat a pie made from the berries Madeline collected along the way: a final act of sharing one person’s bounty with the group.
Celeste might not have been written with the Feminine Journey in mind, but it nevertheless conforms to Schmidt’s nine-step structure. This is because Celeste focuses on the protagonist’s internal growth rather than external goals and emphasizes relationships with others. Writers who wishes to tell their own stories of internal growth should consider the Feminine Journey as a potential structure, as it’s perfectly tailored for heroes who need to grapple with difficult emotions, regardless of their gender.