Archetypes in Literature

Definition of Archetype:

“A universally recognizable element . . . that recurs across all literature and life (Latrobe 13). Psychologist Carl Jung called these elements a kind of “collective unconscious” of the human race, prototypes rather than something gained from experience. The word is derived from the Greek: arche, original, and typos, form or model; thus, original model
(Latrobe 13).
An archetype is the first real example or prototype of something (as the Model T is the prototype of the modern automobile). In this sense an archetype can be considered the ideal model, the supreme type or the
perfect image of something (Brunel 111-112, 114). A key to understanding folk literature is to understand archetypes. “An archetype is to the psyche what an instinct is to the body. . . . . Archetypes are the psychic instincts of the human species.” (Edinger as quoted in Knapp 10). Archetypes are universal in human beings. Archetypes result in a deep emotional response for readers. “Archetypes are repeated patterns that recur in the literature of every
age” (Sloan 48).

Examples of Archetypes

Hero (think of the classic hero journey & qualities of hero)
• “The main character leaves his or her community to go on an adventure, performing deeds that bring honor to the community” (Herz and Gallo 121).
Mother figure
• Fairy Godmother (surrogate mother)—comforts and directs
child, especially when he or she is confused and needs
guidance. Represents powers that can be called on for help
when it is needed. Helps young person to solve own problems
(Knapp 71).
•Earth Mother
• Stepmother
The great teacher/mentor
• Wise old men/women—protects or helps main character when he or she faces challenges.
The innocent
• Child/Youth
• Inexperienced adult
• Split personality—the other side of an individual
Helping animals
The Sacrificial Redeemer
• “The protagonist is willing to die for his or her beliefs; the main character maintains a strong sense of morality” (Herz and Gallo 123).
Scapegoat/Sacrificial Victim
The Giant/Monster/Ogre
• Wolf
Evil figure
• The Devil
• Serpent


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