“Now this is a simple acronym: H.E.R.O. At Diversity, we believe it’s very easy to be a hero. All you need are: Honesty, Empathy, Respect, and Open-mindedness,” said Mr. Brown.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, but that’s not all it takes to be a hero,” said Dwight Schrute.
“Okay well, what is a hero to you?”
“A hero kills people, people that wish him harm. A hero is part human and part supernatural. A hero is born out of a childhood trauma, or out of a disaster, and must be avenged.”
“Uh, okay, you’re thinking of a superhero.”
There are many definitions of the word, hero. The modern definition is someone who performs great deeds or selfless acts for the common good. The classic hero, on the other hand, is a warrior in pursuit of honor; on an epic quest; resourceful and skilled; risking people’s lives for trivial matters; arrogant and childlike. (Wikipedia)
Someone on Reddit initially told me his idea of Dwight Schrute being a hero, and it instantly grabbed me. He was saying that Dwight was the central hero of The Office in that he was on a quest to get to the top, and he’s continually pranked by Jim. (I told this person I would give him credit for the original idea, so I will mention him here as “an anonymous source only known as Lucrative Bean.”)
Based on this idea from Reddit, I began thinking of ways to justify calling Dwight a hero. I realized that calling Dwight a hero in the modern sense didn’t work since he isn’t selfless, but I did like the concept overall, so I continued to develop it. Eventually, I decided that Dwight might be a hero in the classic sense.
In this post, you will find an explanation of how Dwight fits the description of a classic hero, and you will also find a retelling of the story of Dwight in the form of “The Hero’s Journey.”
Is Dwight Schrute a Classic Hero?
Dwight is arrogant and childlike. That goes without saying. He also risks people’s lives for trivial matters, like when he created an all-too-real fire drill. However, is he a warrior in pursuit of honor?
I would say, yes. Dwight’s ultimate goal is to become the manager of Dunder Mifflin. This is apparent almost immediately. As soon as we learn that Dwight is proud of his “Assistant to the Regional Manager” title, we get the sense that he likes having authority over others.
We don’t explicitly find out that he wants to be manager until “The Coup” episode where he goes behind Michael’s back to try to get his job. This is actually quite surprising considering that Dwight has an authentic love for Michael Scott and pretty much worships him.
While Michael is a goofball and Dwight hates nonsense, he makes an exception for Michael because, for one, Michael is a great salesperson. Dwight is also a great salesperson and we can only assume he learned it mostly from Michael (although Dwight does have a background in beet sales).
Another reason Dwight loves Michael is because Michael is in a position of authority. If there’s one thing we know about Dwight it’s that he has the utmost respect for authority figures.
So, why does he betray Michael? Well, Dwight also loves his girlfriend, Angela Martin, and Angela does not like Michael at all. Michael’s silliness is too much for her, and she sees no redeeming qualities in him. This is why she says to Dwight, “You should be running this office.” She suggests he go behind Michael’s back and talk to Jan about it.
Dwight tells Angela he could never do that, but she responds, “Fine. Sit back and do nothing and let us all get fired.”
As much as Dwight wants Michael’s respect, he also wants Angela’s, so he listens to her suggestion. While this is the first time we see Dwight specifically pursue the manager position, I think he had the desire before Angela said something. While Angela sent him on this specific mission, she did not send him on his overall quest.
I believe Michael was the one to do that – though not intentionally.
The Hero’s Journey
In storytelling, there is often a storyline that can be identified as “The Hero’s Journey.” It begins with a call to adventure, then a mentor is introduced, challenges and temptations arise, the hero eventually experiences a revelation and is transformed and then atoned. Finally, the adventure ends and he returns home.
If Dwight is on The Hero’s Journey, then this is what it would look like:
A wide-eyed beet farmer with unquenchable ambition applies for a job as a salesperson at a company called Dunder Mifflin. He wants more than just a simple farm life and wants to experience life outside his isolated community.
Dwight gets the job and tries to become the best salesperson he can. His boss, Michael, loves to give him advice and demonstrate his business acumen. Dwight is quite impressed because Michael is successful in sales and is writing a book called, Somehow I Manage.
While Dwight experiences many triumphs (i.e., being named Northeastern Pennsylvania Salesman of the Year), he also experiences many challenges. For one, Michael is not always kind to Dwight. For example, he doubts his ability to give a good acceptance speech at the salesman convention, and he repeatedly reminds him that he is Assistant to the Regional Manager and not Assistant Regional Manager. Then, he tells him that the title has no meaning.
Despite these setbacks (and many more), Dwight continues on his quest for honor. After many years vying for the manager’s position, Dwight hits rock bottom – almost immediately after he achieves one of the highest honors, becoming Vice President of Dunder Mifflin:
As the new VP, Dwight was getting ready for a big presentation to the board of directors, when Jim Halpert appeared and told him that the CEO was going to reject the special project and fire him. Dwight soon learned that this wasn’t one of Jim’s pranks – Jim actually was telling the truth for once.
Jim’s honesty saved Dwight from what would have been one of the biggest embarrassments in his life of conquest – getting fired.
After this debacle comes the revelation part of The Hero’s Journey, and it’s not pretty. Dwight is completely dejected that he is not going to be the VP, and he realizes that Dunder Mifflin may not be the wonderful, paper-loving company he thought it was. It becomes glaringly obvious that the company he was loyal to for so many years shares none of his values.
This revelation is followed by transformation as Dwight transforms from ambitious salesman and leader into a complacent employee who never makes another attempt to advance in the company.
Then, we move to the atonement phase. David Wallace is CEO again. As David watches Dwight perform his karate routine and receive his blackbelt in the office, David observes Dwight’s ambition and loyalty. He realizes that Dwight is the manager Dunder Mifflin needs.
The relationship between Dwight and Dunder Mifflin is finally restored when David offers Dwight the job he’s always wanted.
The last phase of The Hero’s Journey is returning home. While Dwight never truly left his farm behind, his love of paper probably distracted him a bit from his love of beets. However, his love of farming eventually returns at full force when his aunt leaves him and his siblings her farm in her will with the stipulation that they all must return home. While his siblings protest, Dwight eventually convinces them to run the farm together.
By the end of the show, Dwight is both Manager of Dunder Mifflin and owner of two farms. He conquered demeaning bosses, pranky coworkers and his own shortcomings to achieve his dream, and in the end, he made it home alive.
We are Warriors!
No one can forget Dwight’s speech at the salesman convention:
“Have you ever asked yourselves in an hour of meditation, which everyone finds during the day, how long we have been striving for greatness. Not only the years we’ve been at war – the war of work – but from the moment as a child when we realized the world could be conquered. It has been a lifetime struggle, a never-ending fight. I say to you, and you will understand that it is a privilege to fight. We are warriors!”
Contrast this with Michael’s description of first meeting Dwight: “When I met you, you were wide-eyed innocent.”
Dwight’s journey is one of the best storylines in The Office. It’s almost like watching The Lord of the Rings. Almost.