The epiphany refers to that moment at the end of the character arc where the hero realises a hidden truth about himself. This truth shines a light on a blind spot, flaw or wound, that has hampered progress towards achieving his purpose.
The epiphany is an internal event that impacts two layers of meaning—the psychological and the moral. The psychological allows the flaw to be confronted—a first step in healing oneself. Importantly, the epiphany allows the hero to gain true efficacy in the world and results in his turning the tables on the antagonist through external action.
But whereas the psychological dimension begins the process of healing the hero as an individual, the moral dimension allows the hero to apply the healing to the whole of society—it universalises the story by associating the action with the moral good.
“As a whole, then, the hero’s epiphany is the moment where self-deception is stripped away. The penny drops. The lesson is learnt. It is the culmination of the inner journey of the character.“
It goes hand in hand with the transformation of ‘want’ into ‘need’. Without this transformation the hero is fighting in the dark, ill equipped to fulfill his goal.
In The Anatomy of Story, John Truby (who refers to the moment of epiphany as the moment of self-realisation) provides the following examples of transformation:
“In Casablanca Rick sheds his cynicism, regains his idealism, and sacrifices his love for Ilsa so he can become a freedom fighter.
In Dances with Wolves Dunbar finds a new reason to live and a new way of being a man because of his new wife and his extended Lakota Sioux family. Ironically, the Lakota way of life is almost at an end, so Dunbar’s self-revelation is both positive and negative.
In effect, the hero realizes that he has been wrong, that he has hurt others, and that he must change. He then proves he has changed by taking new moral action.”
The hero’s epiphany refers to the moment in which the hero recognises his psychological and moral shortcomings and acts to overcome his last crisis and gain his true goal.