Epiphany and Self-Realisation in Stories

The hero’s epiphany in Casablanca.
The hero’s epiphany in Casablanca.

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.

2 thoughts on “Epiphany and Self-Realisation in Stories

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    After reading this article it is my understanding that the epiphany is the result of a character coming to terms with his/her own inner conflict . What makes characters believable is the fact they must learn to tolerate the wrongs of the world while at the same time recognize that they them selves are being tolerated . Television producer Chuck Lorre has produced series such as Two and a half men starring Charlie Sheen , the big bang theory starring Jim Parson as well as Mom starring Anne Faris. In Two and a half men the epiphany for Charlie Sheen’s character is to recognize that he has a lack of compassion for people , thus he reluctantly provides a life line for his loser brother. In the big bang theory Jim Parson’s character’s epiphany is when he recognizes that his struggles and achievements (big or small) are not his alone . In Mom Anne Faris epiphany is to recognize that despite reinventing herself is to accept that she is a broken person with various addictions from alcohol to gambling and that the only way to overcome her damaged psyche is to consistently reach out to others to further better herself.

    In short : To over come the evil of the world the protagonist must first embrace and overcome there own inner demons.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      This is spot-on, Gerhard. The moral impact on the world (or the hero’s immediate circle) can only come after the hero overcomes the psychological and moral flaws within himself. Only then, can the healing spill out and affect the world for the better.


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