From the Caribbean to Broadway: Hamilton’s Hero’s Journey

Joshua Guilas | Staff Writer

As the opening number of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” says, the legendary founding father was “…dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor [grew] up to be a hero and a scholar.”

Alexander Hamilton’s life reflects what writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell calls the “Hero’s Journey,” a pattern we see in stories across cultures and throughout time. Hamilton’s story captures what Campbell describes as the adventure of leaving behind “the world of common day” and venturing “into a region of supernatural wonder” where “a decisive victory is won” and “the hero comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” It’s the stuff Broadway hits are made of.

The Ordinary World

Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean out of wedlock; his father abandoned him and his mother, a married woman, died on the island. The young boy learned to read during his time as a clerk and worked hard to get an education.

The Call to Adventure

There are many moments in Hamilton’s life that could be considered the call to adventure: the hurricane that devastated his hometown and prompted him to move to the States, the Revolutionary War or even the invitation to become an aide for major generals such as William Alexander and Lord Stirling. However, his true call didn’t come until General George Washington asked Hamilton to become his right-hand man.

Refusal of the Call/ Jumping at the Call

Hamilton rejected the call of William Alexander and Lord Stirling. However with Washington, Hamilton would not throw away his shot. He served as Washington’s aide and lieutenant colonel. This service would also count as Hamilton’s “meeting with the mentor” stage of the Hero’s Journey.

Crossing the Threshold

Eventually, Hamilton decided to pursue a position in Congress after his military experience at the Battle of Yorktown. This could be considered the crossing the threshold stage, as Hamilton became involved in a different world. Although he decided to leave government work for some time, he eventually decided to join the Constitutional Convention. It was here where he did his best to get the Constitution passed and eventually became the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

During his time in the government, Hamilton met with his overarching enemy, the Democratic-Republican Party, headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They were engaged in a battle for early America’s very soul. This battle created the two-party system that is prevalent even in today’s government. Hamilton’s allies were his fellow Federalists, but he seemed to make more enemies than allies; even John Adams grew disgusted with him.

The Ordeal

During a summer spent in the city, 34-year-old Hamilton was in distress and took comfort in the arms of 23-year-old Maria Reynolds. Hamilton loaned her $30 and eventually developed a sexual relationship with her for about a year. Maria Reynolds’ husband discovered the affair and blackmailed Hamilton to pay him in order to avoid a duel between the two men or exposure of the sex scandal.

The whole ordeal led to accusations of espionage and embezzlement, all eventually culminating in the death of Hamilton’s son who sought to defend his father’s honor through a duel. Hamilton decided to publish the Reynolds Pamphlet, a document he wrote specifically for the public, detailing his affair, in order to clear his name.

Atonement

Despite all the problems that had occurred in his life, Hamilton was able to prevent his rival, Aaron Burr, from becoming president. Hamilton published papers that endorsed Thomas Jefferson, one of his own enemies, for president, rather than seeing Burr elected. In a sense, this was how Hamilton atoned for his misguided ways.

The Return

Burr was not about to let Hamilton’s actions stand, however. Burr felt his honor was attacked, so he challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton wrote that he would finally throw away his shot by not killing Burr to protect his family and creditors. However, fate would not allow him to avoid the duel in the end. Hamilton was fatally shot and killed by his rival.

And yet, Hamilton remains a hero in the eyes of America. His face appears on the $10 bill, while Burr went down as the man who killed a statesman. Having completed the Hero’s Journey, Hamilton’s story lives on in history books and through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning lyrics to reach the next generation.

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