The Virgin’s Promise archetype has many phases, as many as the Hero’s Journey we just finished reviewing. Like the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist can be either male or female. At its heart, the Virgin’s Promise is a coming of age story. It is a story of transformation and transgression, where the protagonist finds their authentic self. Often this means breaking with tradition and ultimately bringing the protagonists’ society into a new way of thinking or living.
The virgin begins in dependency, whether on their parents, society, culture, or religion. Ultimately, providing for the Virgin, is an external authority. This authority represents the antagonistic force that must be overcome in order for the Virgin to realize her own value and flourish.
Price of Conformity
This external authority places an expectation of some kind onto the Virgin. This comes in many forms – a restricting tradition of culture or limitations placed on her by society. Examples would be the perception that girls can’t play a certain sport, or an arranged marriage. In these circumstances, the Virgin can be aware of the constraints and resent them, accept them willingly, or even be completely ignorant of them.
Eventually though, the Virgin will reveal a talent, dream, or true nature previously hidden. When the opportunity to reveal this comes, it is not threatening to the status quo and so the Virgin believes she will not be caught. Whatever happens, the potential the Virgin has comes to light and fulfilling this potential becomes the Virgin’s new goal.
Playing the Part
Despite the realization of the new goal, the Virgin continues to play the part expected of them. The Virgin begins to understand that there must be some external representation of the ability to fulfill their potential.
This leads to the creation or finding of a secret world – a place where the Virgin can express themselves without fear of recrimination. At this point in the story, the Virgin realizes the importance of self-fulfillment but is not yet ready to break the bonds of dependency.
However, the longer the Virgin spends time in the Secret World the stronger the need to reach full potential becomes. The Virgin begins to understand that they cannot simultaneously play a part and be true to themselves; that in fact the choice must be one or the other. Often there is the risk that the two lives she is leading will collide and implode if the Virgin is not careful.
This is where the two roles the Virgin is filling actually collide. This is because the Virgin’s potential can no longer be hidden, whether by accident, by choice, or simply because the potential is too large to be hidden any more. Sometimes this comes in the form a betrayal by a trusted individual, whether ill-intentioned or not.
The Virgin tries to return to fulfilling her previous role, giving up all of her potential and developing a complex of some sort. The Virgin believes they can return to their previous life without actually sacrificing who they are, which is not true. This is because the Virgin already has a pattern of burying her needs and refusing to take any of the action needed to claim her true self. Like the Hero’s Journey, overcoming this complex involves a death – either literal or metaphorical. It becomes crucial for the Virgin to make a choice, giving up what keeps her stuck, or never reaching her full potential.
Kingdom in Chaos
Because there is an interdependency between the Virgin and their environment, when the Virgin begins to change panic ensues within their environment. The Virgin risks losing something important – the love of someone dear to them or the dowry of an arranged marriage or the like. In turn, the external authority desires to regain its previous control. At this point though, the Virgin takes action against this attempt. People are hurt on both sides and things fall into chaos.
Because the Virgin has transgressed or rebelled against the external authority but continues to question their self-worth, the Virgin goes into solitude. A period of self-reflection begins as the Virgin attempts to determine what is “right.” This is usually a literal walk through a park or nearby woods, metaphorically representative of the wilderness of the soul.
This self-reflection leads the Virgin to choose their dream, to fulfill their self-potential despite any and all consequences. While this is a moment of triumph, the Virgin must also fulfill their potential in an external manner, often risking rejection or failure, sometimes even imprisonment or death.
Rescue and Order
After putting everything at risk and proving her commitment, the external authority finally acknowledges the value of the Virgin’s full potential. A reconciliation of the two worlds the Virgin has been living in occurs. The Virgin must now bring order back to the chaos or otherwise inspire the negative force in her life towards the light.
Because order has been restored and the negativity is turned into a force for rightful change, the external authority – the parent, community, whatever – accepts the Virgin as she is. Everyone has had to make changes to reintegrate the Virgin back into society. Everyone comes to the realization that these changes have been for the better and that they ultimately benefit from the transformation.
Have you used this structure in any of your works? Feel free to experiment with this and the Hero’s Journey to figure out which structure is a better fit for your plot. Let us know if you have a preference.
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