Archetypes in literature, art, and music


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In a world searching for the one, true God, people, who had no contact with each other at all, formed myths to explain natural phenomena, such as great floods and the creation of the world as well as to answer such questions as why we die and why we are born. These fantasy images appear in literature and art and music all around the world in different time eras like recurring patterns. This challenges us to learn about archetypes and to identify them in our culture.
Characteristics of Archetypes:

  1. They are not individual, but are the part we share with all humanity.

  2. They are the inherited part of being which connects us to our past.

  3. They are universal. From Roman gladiator to the astronaut, they remain the same.

  4. Their appearance in diverse cultures cannot be explained as many cultures are so separated by geography and time.

  5. Archetypes are recurrent, appearing in slightly altered forms to take present day situations and relate them to the past to find meaning a a contemporary world.

Archetype Defined:

Archetype is an original model, after which other similar things are patterned; it comes from the Greek word “arkhetupos” meaning “exemplary.”

Archetypes Definitions and Quotes
Archetype: from the Greek archetypon, original pattern

Definition One: The characters, images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences regardless of when or where they live are called archetypes. The term designates universal symbols, which evoke deep and perhaps unconscious responses in a reader because archetypes bring with them the heft of our hopes and fears since the beginning of human time.

From: Meyer, Michael, ed. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Definition Two: Archetypes are deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity . . . a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas . . . Archetypal behaviors are typical, eternally repeated behaviors among human beings.

From: The Zodiac Master < > (17 August 2002)

Definition Three: A primordial image, character, or pattern of circumstances that recurs throughout literature and thought consistently enough to be considered universal. The term was adopted by literary critics from the writing of the psychologist Carl Jung, who formulated a history of the collective unconscious.

From: Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1955.

"Myth is a communal experience, or shared fantasy, that is important to the processes of socialization. Many myths involve heroes, individuals who are faced with trials, often involving a journey, and who through this process come to a revelation that they then must struggle to integrate into their lives. The hero archetype has been compelling because it dramatizes the struggles that all people must face; heroes serve as a models of power and perseverance, whose story is often intended to teach a social lesson. Among the contemporary myths of American culture since the early 20th century, the comic book superhero has been an important archetype. The popularity of charters like Superman, Batman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, and others have created a superhero industry in print, television, film, video games, and the Internet."

From: Zehnder, Sean. The Hero and the Shadow: A Study of the Factors of Age and Gender in the Perception and Understanding of Archetypes of Good, Evil, and the Duality of Human Existence. < > [no longer available]

(17 August 2002)

"The hero is an archetypal figure recorded in literature and other art forms throughout history in cultures from all around the world. Some of these figures take fantastic journeys that test their heroic strengths and worth. Other figures undergo tremendous suffering for some greater, heroic purpose. Some suffering figures reach a level of heroic transcendence in a victory over adversity and their own limitations. The nature of the figure may receive a different emphasis in different cultures, and in some cultures, at sometimes, the anti-heroic figure may defiantly be proclaimed as the dominant archetype. Another common archetype is the superheroic figure, who has exceptional strengths to balance against exceptional monsters and fear."

From:  (No longer available.)

'In "Peace on Earth," Superman is unable to meet his heroic goal, despite his good intentions. It's a common theme in Ross' work - heroes try to tackle impossible problems and fail, again and again, until they learn to embrace their limitations.

            "He, Superman, couldn't save the world because he's not intended to," Ross said. "The thing is that if any one person saves the world, it takes away human beings' need to improve themselves and basically fix their own selves and their own society."

             To that end, he believes that heroes like Superman best serve as inspirational figures to those of us in the real world. "Superheroes can be a phenomenal thing to portray, to both kids and adults, the very intentions of looking out for your fellow man," he said.'

From: Alderman, Nathan. Alex Ross Interview <> (21 February 2003)

"Superheroes are worth reading about. They're worth writing about. They're powerful archetypal characters in larger than life, allegorical situations. Superman isn't just a guy in a cape who gets confused about which goes on first, the underwear or the tights: he's the altruistic impulse in all of us, the desire to help one's fellow man given flesh. Batman isn't just a guy dressed like a bat, he's the primal impulse for revenge, continually at war with his own more civilized nature and waling the edge of insanity on a nightly basis. These are powerful stories. These are important archetypes. They are worth writing about."

From: Seavey, John. The Final Word < > [no longer available] (17 August 2002)

Archetype (in literature) refers to an image, story pattern, or character type, which recurs frequently and evokes strong, often unconscious, association in a reader. For example, the wicked witch, the enchanted prince, the sleeping beauty, and the fairy godmother are widely dispersed throughout folk literature and appear in slightly different forms in poetry, drama, and novels.

Archetype is a term that echoes Carl Jung’s idea of recurring patterns of situation, character, or symbol existing universally and instinctively in the “collective unconscious” of man.
Freud’s “personal unconscious” theory states that personal experiences have been forgotten or repressed, yet linger in the personal unconscious mind and motivate, shape, or control much of our behavior.
Jung believed that a collection of the experiences and memories of humanity as a race exists; somehow, the experiences of mankind are embedded into the minds of all men and women, a mixture of the experiences of humanity and of archetypes of basic themes and motifs. These are often referred to today as “genetic memory” or “racial memory.”
Jung believed that the basic foundation of the collective unconscious is the archetype, universal themes/symbols/situations which run constant in the minds of mankind. Archetypes are unconscious patterns, which have developed through the ages. Archetypes influence the way people think, as they repeatedly use the same ideas as previous generations, only in different surroundings and different situations. The archetypes present themselves through art, mythology, literature, and dreams.
The term archetype can be applied to:

  • An image

  • A theme

  • A symbol

  • An idea

  • A character type

  • A plot pattern

Archetypes can be expressed in Myths

  • Dreams

  • Literature

  • Religions

  • Fantasies

  • Folklore

Heroic Archetypes: Under each of the following, list a movie or book hero that fits the archetype. I have listed one in parenthesis, but you need to add more.

  • Hero as warrior (Odysseus): A near god-like hero faces physical challenges and external enemies

  • Hero as lover (Prince Charming): A pure love motivate hero to complete his quest

  • Hero as Scapegoat (Jesus): Hero suffers for the sake of others

  • Transcendent Hero: The hero of tragedy whose fatal flaw brings about his downfall, but not without achieving some kind of transforming realization or wisdom (Greek and Shakespearean tragedies—Oedipus, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc.)

  • Romantic/Gothic Hero: Hero/lover with a decidedly dark side (Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre)

  • Proto-Feminist Hero: Female heroes (The Awakening by Kate Chopin)

  • Apocalyptic Hero: Hero who faces the possible destruction of society

  • Anti-Hero: A non-hero, given the vocation of failure, frequently humorous (Homer Simpson)

  • Defiant Anti-hero: Opposer of society’s definition of heroism/goodness. (Heart of Darkness)

  • Unbalanced Hero: The Protagonist who has (or must pretend to have) mental or emotional deficiencies (Hamlet, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

  • The Other—the Denied Hero: The protagonist whose status or essential otherness makes heroism possible (Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan)

  • The Superheroic: Exaggerates the normal proportions of humanity; frequently has divine or supernatural origins. In some sense, the superhero is one apart, someone who does not quite belong, but who is nonetheless needed by society. (Mythological heroes, Superman)

Types of Archetypal Journeys (Again, list examples)

  • The quest for identity

  • The epic journey to find the promised land/to found the good city

  • The quest for vengeance

  • The warrior’s journey to save his people

  • The search for love (to rescue the princess/damsel in distress)

  • The journey in search of knowledge

  • The tragic quest: penance or self-denial

  • The fool’s errand

  • The quest to rid the land of danger

  • The grail quest (the quest for human perfection)

Stages of a Hero’s Journey


hile we divide the journey into eight steps, you must remember that the journey is a single process, an individual adventure towards growth and transformation. As such, the sequence of elements and the duration of the experiences may vary from one person to another or from one journey to the next. Since you have already read the background on this situational archetype, we don’t need to go into depth. However, the basic journey pattern generally follows this pattern:
Separation (from the known)

  1. The Call:

  2. The Threshold (with guardians, helpers, and mentor)

Initiation and Transformation

  1. The Challenges 

  2. The Abyss 

  3. The Transformation/Apotheosis

  4. The Revelation 

  5. The Atonement

The Return (to the known world)

  1. The Return (with a Gift) to assume new role in life 

Stages of the Hero’s Journey

  • The Ordinary World Most stories take the hero out of the ordinary, mundane world into a Special World, new and alien.

  • The Call to Adventure

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake.

Once presented with a call to adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the ordinary world.

  • Refusal of the Call (The Reluctant Hero)

This one is about fear. The hero balks at the threshold of adventure.

  • Mentor (The Wise Old Man or Woman)

The relationship between hero and Mentor is one of the most common themes in mythology, one of the most symbolic. It stands for the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, god and man.

  • Crossing the First Threshold

The hero finally commits to the adventure and fully enters the Special World of the story for the first time.

  • Tests, Allies and Enemies

The hero naturally encounters new challenges and tests, makes allies and enemies, and begins to learn the rules of the Special World.

  • Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero comes at last to the edge of a dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden.

  • The Supreme Ordeal

Here the fortunes of the hero hit bottom in a direct confrontation with his greatest fear.

The hero, like Jonah, is “in the belly of the beast.”

  • Reward (Seizing the Sword)

The hero now takes possession of the treasure she has come seeking, her reward. Sometimes the “sword” is knowledge and experience that leads to greater understanding and reconciliation with hostile forces. The hero may also be reconciled with the opposite sex. In many stories the loved one is the treasure the hero has come to win or rescue.

  • The Road Back

This stage marks the decision to return to the Ordinary World.

  • Resurrection

Death and darkness get in one last, desperate shot before being finally defeated. It’s a final exam for the hero, who must be tested once more to see if he has really learned the lessons of the Supreme Ordeal.

  • Return with the Elixir

The hero returns to the Ordinary World, but the journey is meaningless unless she brings back some Elixir, treasure, or lesson from the Special World. The Elixir is a magic potion with the power to heal.
Unless something is brought back from the ordeal in the Inmost Cave, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure. Many comedies use this ending, as the foolish character refuses to learn his lesson and embarks on the same folly that got him in trouble in the first place.
Characteristics of the Hero’s Journey (List examples from movies or literature!)

  • The hero is naïve and inexperienced

  • The hero meets monsters or monstrous men

  • The hero years for the beautiful lady who is sometimes his guide or inspiration

  • The hero must go on a journey, learn a lesson, change in some way, and return home

  • The hero often crosses a body of water or travels on a bridge.

  • The hero is born and raised in a rural setting away from cities

  • The origin of the hero is mysterious or the hero losses his/her parents at a young age, being raised by animals or a wise guardian

  • The hero returns to the land of his/her birth in disguise or as an unknown

  • The hero is special, one of a kind. He/she might represent a whole nation or culture

  • The hero struggles for something valuable and important

  • The hero has help from divine or supernatural forces

  • The hero has a guide or guides

  • The hero goes through a rite of passage or initiation, an event that marks a change from an immature to a more mature understanding of the world

  • The hero undergoes some type of ritual or ceremony after his/her initiation

  • The hero has a loyal band of companions

  • The hero makes a stirring speech to his/her companions

  • The hero engages in tests or contests of strength (physical and/or mental) and shows pride in his/her excellence

  • The hero suffers an unhealable wound, sometimes an emotional or spiritual wound from which the hero never completely recovers.

Situational Archetypes

  • The Quest – This motif describes the search for someone or some talisman which, when found and brought back, will restore fertility to a wasted land, the desolation of which is mirrored by a leader’s illness and disability.

  • The Task – This refers to a possibly superhuman feat that must be accomplished in order to fulfill the ultimate goal.

  • The Journey – The journey sends the hero in search for some truth of information necessary to restore fertility, justice, and/or harmony to the kingdom. The journey includes the series of trials and tribulations the hero faces along the way. Usually the hero descends into a real or psychological hell and is forced to discover the blackest truths, quite often concerning his faults. Once the hero is at this lowest level, he must accept personal responsibility to return to the world of the living.

  • The Initiation – This situation refers to a moment, usually psychological, in which an individual comes into maturity. He or she gains a new awareness into the nature of circumstances and problems and understands his or her responsibility for trying to resolve the dilemma. Typically, a hero receives a calling, a message or signals that he or she must make sacrifices and become responsible for getting involved in the problem. Often a hero will deny and question the calling and ultimately, in the initiation, will accept responsibility.

  • The Ritual – Not to be confused with the initiation, the ritual refers to an organized ceremony that involves honored members of a given community and an Initiate. This situation officially brings the young man or woman into the realm of the community’s adult world.

  • The Fall – Not to be confused with the awareness in the initiation, this archetype describes a descent in action from a higher to a lower state of being, an experience which might involve defilement, moral imperfection, and/or loss of innocence. This fall is often accompanied by expulsion from a kind of paradise as penalty for disobedience and/or moral transgression.
  • Death and Rebirth – The most common of all situational archetypes, this motif grows out of the parallel between the cycle of nature and the cycle of life. It refers to those situations in which someone or something, concrete and/or metaphysical dies, yet is accompanied by some sign of birth or rebirth.

  • Nature vs. Mechanistic World – Expressed in its simplest form, this refers to situations which suggest that nature is good whereas the forces of technology are bad.

  • Battle Between Good and Evil – These situations pit obvious forces which represent good and evil against one another. Typically, good ultimately triumphs over evil despite great odds.

  • The Unhealable Wound – This wound, physical or psychological, cannot be healed fully. This would also indicate a loss of innocence or purity. Often the wounds’ pain drives the sufferer to desperate measures of madness.

  • The Magic Weapon – Sometimes connected with the task, this refers to a skilled individual hero’s ability to use a piece of technology in order to combat evil, continue a journey, or to prove his or her identity as a chosen individual.

  • Father-Son Conflict – Tension often results from separation during childhood or from an external source when the individuals meet as men and where the mentor often has a higher place in the affections of the hero than the natural parent. Sometimes the conflict is resolved in atonement.

  • Innate Wisdom vs. Educated Stupidity – Some characters exhibit wisdom and understanding intuitively as opposed to those supposedly in charge.


Every story, according to critic Northrup Frye, is about a search for identity. That identity depends largely on the protagonist’s position (or lack of position) in society. A tragic story shows a person moving from a socially integrated position, such as Oedipus or Hamlet’s, to a socially isolated one, often death. A comic story of ten details a person’s move from social isolation (symbolized by poverty and/or lack of recognition) to social integration (wealth, status, marriage to one’s beloved). Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion is an example of a comic character who rises socially.

Fiction in the Western tradition draws on two major sources: ancient Greek literature and the Bible. Both sources are concerned with the preservation or restoration of society and with the individual hero as savior or social redeemer. Hamlet wants to redeem Denmark; Oedipus wants to save Thebes from the curse he unintentionally placed on it. Shaw was to erase class markers in English society.
The Natural Cycle suggests all kinds of imagery:
Day to Night / Light (Goodness) to Darkness (Evil)

Spring to Winter / Spring (Hope) to Winter (Despair)

Youth to Old Age / Girl (Innocence) to Crone (Evil Knowledge)
Northrup Frye argues that we associate images of spring with comedy, images of summer with romance, images of autumn with tragedy, images of winter with satire and irony. Note, however, that here “comedy” means a story of social unification; “tragedy” means a story of social isolation; and “romance” means a story in which the characters are larger than life and encounter wonders usually not seen in reality.
Often in literature, the author subtly weaves these images into the story. In 1984, for example, a cold April wind kills the crocuses that ought to promise hope and renewal. Similarly, autumn leaves can symbolize an aging person, a dying society, or the onset of evil.
A character’s journey from innocence to experience is frequently symbolized by the protagonist’s journey from an idyllic world close to nature, to a urban world that has closed itself against nature. In the Bible, there is the journey from Eden through the desert of the fallen world to Heaven. Returns to the natural world are sometimes successful; sometimes the protagonist manages to bring the urban world into a new harmony with nature.
  • Light vs Darkness – Light usually suggests hope, renewal, or intellectual illumination; darkness implies the unknown, ignorance, or despair.

  • Water vs. Desert – Because water is necessary to life and growth, it commonly appears as a birth or rebirth symbol. Water is used in baptismal services, which solemnizes spiritual births. Similarly, the appearance of rain in a work of literature can suggest a character’s spiritual birth. Examples include “The Wasteland” and the sea and river images in The Odyssey.

  • Heaven vs Hell (s) – Man has traditionally associated parts of the universe, not accessible to him, with the dwelling places of the primordial forces that govern his world. The skies and mountaintops house his gods; the bowels of the earth contain the diabolic forces that inhabit the universe. Examples here include Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy.

  • Innate Wisdom vs Educated Stupidity – Some characters exhibit wisdom and understanding of situations instinctively as opposed to those supposedly in charge. Loyal retainers often exhibit this wisdom as they accompany them on the journey. Examples include Sam from The Lord of the Rings and Batman’s butler Alfred.

  • Haven vs Wilderness – Places of safety contrast sharply against the dangerous wilderness. Heroes are often sheltered for a time to regain health and resources. Examples include the Batcave, Camelot, Rivendale, and the Crystal Cave.

  • Supernatural Intervention – The gods intervene on the side of the hero or sometimes against him. Examples of this occur in The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, and the Bible.

  • Fire vs Ice – Fire represents knowledge, light, life, and rebirth, while ice, like desert, represents ignorance, darkness, sterility, death. The phoenix and Dante’s Inferno are examples of this.

It should be noted that the primitive mind tends not to make fine discriminations but thinks rather in terms of polarities. Thus, when archetypes appear in a work of literature, they usually evoke their primordial opposites. Good is in conflict with evil; birth symbols are juxtaposed with death images; depictions of heaven are countered by descriptions of hell; for every Penelope, there is usually a Circe to balance the archetypal scales.

A symbol may represent good or evil, depending on its context. A tree is usually a symbol of life—but not if the author uses it as a venue for a lynching, or if it is turned into a crucifix. Here are some images and their most common symbolic meanings:


  • Black (darkness) – chaos, mystery, the unknown, before existence, death, the unconscious, evil

  • Red – blood, sacrifice; violent passion, disorder, sunrise, birth, fire, emotion, wounds, death, sentiment, mother, Mars, the note C, anger, excitement, heat, physical stimulation

  • Green – hope, growth, envy, Earth, fertility, sensation, vegetation, death, water, nature, sympathy, adaptability, growth, Jupiter and Venus, the note G, envy

  • White (light) – purity, peace, innocence, goodness, Spirit, morality, creative force, the direction East, spiritual thought

  • Orange – fire, pride, ambition, egoism, Venus, the note D

  • Blue – clear sky, the day, the sea, height, depth, heaven, religious feeling, devotion, innocence, truth, spirituality, Jupiter, the note F, physical soothing and cooling

  • Violet – water, nostalgia, memory, advanced spirituality, Neptune, the note B

  • Gold – Majesty, sun, wealth, corn (life dependency), truth

  • Silver – Moon, wealth


  • Three – the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost); Mind, Body, Spirit, Birth, Life, Death

  • Four – Mankind (four limbs), four elements, four seasons

  • Six – devil, evil
  • Seven – Divinity (3) + Mankind (4) = relationship between man and God, seven deadly sins, seven days of week, seven days to create the world, seven stages of civilization, seven colors of the rainbow, seven gifts of Holy Spirit.


  • Oval – woman, passivity

  • Triangle – communication, between heaven and earth, fire, the number 3, trinity, aspiration, movement upward, return to origins, sight, light

  • Square – pluralism, earth, firmness, stability, construction, material solidity, the number four

  • Rectangle – the most rational, most secure

  • Cross – the Tree of life, axis of the world, struggle, martyrdom, orientation in space

  • Circle – Heaven, intellect, thought, sun, the number two, unity, perfection, eternity, oneness, celestial realm, hearing, sound

  • Spiral – the evolution of the universe, orbit, growth, deepening, cosmic motion, relationship between unity and multiplicity, macrocosm, breath, spirit, water


  • Air – activity, creativity, breath, light, freedom (liberty), movement

  • Ascent – height, transcendence, inward journey, increasing intensity

  • Center – thought, unity, timelessness, spacelessness, paradise, creator, infinity,

  • Descent – unconscious, potentialities of being, animal nature

  • Duality – Yin-Yang, opposites, complements, positive-negative, male-female, life-death

  • Earth – passive, feminine, receptive, solid

  • Fire – the ability to transform, love, life, health, control, sun, God, passion, spiritual energy, regeneration

  • Lake – mystery, depth, unconscious

  • Crescent moon – change, transition

  • Mountain – height, mass, loftiness, center of the world, ambition, goals
  • Valley – depression, low-points, evil, unknown

  • Sun – Hero, son of Heaven, knowledge, the Divine eye, fire, life force, creative-guiding force, brightness, splendor, active awakening, healing, resurrection, ultimate wholeness

  • Water – passive, feminine

  • Rivers/Streams – life force, life cycle

  • Stars – guidance

  • Wind – Holy Spirit, life, messenger

  • Ice/Snow – coldness, barrenness

  • Clouds/Mist – mystery, sacred

  • Rain – life giver

  • Steam – transformation to the Holy Spirit

  • Cave – feminine

  • Lightning – intuition, inspiration

  • Tree – where we learn, tree of life, tree of knowledge

  • Forest – evil, lost, fear


  • Feathers – lightness, speed

  • Shadow – our dark side, evil, devil

  • Masks – concealment

  • Boats/Rafts – safe passage

  • Bridge – change, transformation

  • Right hand – rectitude, correctness

  • Left hand – deviousness

  • Feet – stability, freedom

  • Skeleton – mortality

  • Heart – love, emotions

  • Hourglass – the passage of time

Character Archetypes:
  • The Hero – In its simplest form, this character is the one ultimately who may fulfill a necessary task and who will restore fertility, harmony, and/or justice to a community. The hero character is the one who typically experiences an initiation, who goes the community’s ritual (s), et cetera. Often he or she will embody characteristics of YOUNG PERSON FROM THE PROVINCES, INITIATE, INNATE WISDOM, PUPIL, and SON.

  • Young Person from the Provinces – This hero is taken away as an infant or youth and raised by strangers. He or she later returns home as a stranger and able to recognize new problems and new solutions.

  • The Initiates – These are young heroes who, prior to the quest, must endure some training and ritual. They are usually innocent at this stage.

  • Mentors – These individuals serve as teachers or counselors to the initiates. Sometimes they work as role models and often serve as father or mother figure. They teach by example the skills necessary to survive the journey and quest.

  • Hunting Group of Companions – These loyal companions are willing to face any number of perils in order to be together.

  • Loyal Retainers – These individuals are like the noble sidekicks to the hero. Their duty is to protect the hero. Often the retainer reflects the hero’s nobility.

  • Friendly Beast –These animals assist the hero and reflect that nature is on the hero’s side.

  • The Devil Figure – This character represents evil incarnate. He or she may offer worldly goods, fame, or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of the soul or integrity. This figure’s main aim is to oppose the hero in his or her quest.

  • The Evil Figure with the Ultimately Good Heart – This redeemable devil figure (or servant to the devil figure) is saved by the hero’s nobility or good heart.

  • The Scapegoat – An animal or more usually a human whose death, often in a public ceremony, excuses some taint or sin that has been visited upon the community. This death often makes theme more powerful force to the hero.

  • The Outcast – This figure is banished from a community for some crime (real or imagined). The outcast is usually destined to become a wanderer.
  • The Earth Mother – This character is symbolic of fulfillment, abundance, and fertility; offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those who she contacts; often depicted in earth colors, with large breasts and hips.

  • The Temptress – Characterized by sensuous beauty, she is one whose physical attraction may bring about the hero’s downfall.

  • The Platonic Ideal – This source of inspiration often is a physical and spiritual ideal for whom the hero has an intellectual rather than physical attraction.

  • The Unfaithful Wife – This woman, married to a man she sees as dull or distant, is attracted to a more virile or interesting man.

  • The Damsel in Distress – This vulnerable woman must be rescued by the hero. She also may be used as a trap, by an evil figure, to ensnare the hero.

  • The Star-Crossed Lovers – These two character are engaged in a love affair that is fated to end in tragedy for one or both due to the disapproval of society, friends, family, or the gods.

  • The Creature of Nightmare – This monster, physical or abstract, is summoned from the deepest, darkest parts of the human psyche to threaten the lives of the hero/heroine. Often it is a perversion or desecration of the human body.

It should be noted that the primitive mind tends not to make fine discriminations but thinks rather in terms of polarities. Thus, when archetypes appear in a work of literature, they usually evoke their primordial opposites. Good is in conflict with evil; birth symbols are juxtaposed with death images; depictions of heaven are countered by descriptions of hell; for every Penelope, there is usually a Circe to balance the archetypal scales.

Star Wars Archetypal Analysis –

Director George Lucas’ (1944-) Trilogy

(Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and The Return of the Jedi (1983)

Situational Archetypes:

  • The Quest – The quest is to destroy the Empire and restore liberty to the universe.

  • The Initiates – The initiates are Luke and Leia. Notice their colors. Luke in the first two films wears whites or beige. In The Return of the Jedi, he wears black. In the final scenes of the last film, the collar of his black uniform is open and we see that the lining of the uniform is blue-white. His light saber is always white. Leia wears white in the first film and a beige uniform in most of the second film except in the city, where her love for Han is becoming obvious, and she wears a red cape over a beige dress. In the third film, she wears her beige uniform again except in the scene in the Ewok village where she wears earth colors.

  • The Task – The task differs in each film, ranging from destroying the Death Star to rescuing Leia, etc.

  • The Magic Weapon – Luke is given the light saber by Obi Wan as he explains to the initiate about his father and the Jedi tradition. Obi Wan becomes the mentor now.

  • The Ritual – Luke goes through Jedi training to master the weapon and the force. He will not complete his ritual, which sets up his fall.

  • The Journey – The journey is through the entire galaxy. Settings become more frightening as situations worsen. Hoth, the ice planet, is full of danger and devoid of life, indicating the desperation of the rebels. Actions returns to Tatoonie with Jabba, and the desert reflects the monster’s symbolic disregard for life. The Emperor lives on a completely sterile environment of machines reflecting his disregard for life.
  • The Fall – Luke falls from innocence and protection when he fails to complete his training and so is not prepared to face death. He is intimately connected to the Dark Side since Darth Vader is his father. He loses his hand and literally falls down the tube of the sky city to emerge an experienced man. There is no going back now. He must fight with his own emotions and desires as all men do. He never wears all white again.

  • Death and RebirthObi Wan is presumed dead, but is found by Luke. Later in the film, Obi Wan is actually killed by Darth Vader, but his body disappears and his spirit returns with greater strength—a very common archetype in savior stories.

  • Natural vs Mechanistic World – The Ewoks illustrate the archetype that nature is ultimately good and their planet is rampant with life—as is Yoda’s. This machine world of the Emperor is cold and sterile. Darth Vader is more machine than man and thus his evil is obvious. The stormtroopers hide behind masks of metal and reveal no life and no feeling; their uniforms are white lined with black revealing essential corruption.

  • The Battle Between Good and Evil – Inherent in all myth, this battle is always easy to determine in these films. Good and evil are designated by archetypal colors, actions, and music. The dichotomy between good and evil is illustrated in each turn of the plot.

  • The Unhealable Wound – Luke’s fall from grace and innocence is represented by his artificial hand in the second movie. Darth suffers an unhealable wound as is made obvious by his portable life support system through which he breathes.

Character Archetypes:

  • Hero – Luke Skywalker is the primary hero and fits all the archetypal patterns, though George Lucas made a mistake by allowing Han to have the love affair. As in the Arthurian legends, Han/Lancelot often overshadows Luke. Also, there are symbolic association with the hero’s name: Luke the physician and Skywalker.

  • Platonic Ideal Heroine – Luke is involved in a platonic relationship with Leia filled with great affection but devoid of physical involvement. Leia provides a reason for Luke and Han to join the rebel alliance.
  • Young Man from the Provinces – Luke is raised in a very remote “safe” area where he is hidden and protected from Darth Vader and the Emperor. When he is thrust into the rebellion, he brings with him an outsider’s eye as well as new enthusiasm.

  • Damsel in Distress – Leia is rescued by Han and Luke several times and is also used to trap our heroes, especially in the City of Clouds and in the desert with Jabba.

  • Spiritual Earth-mother – Leia becomes more motherly, softer, and more of a part of nature, culminating in her acceptance by the Ewoks. Her hair is down and she wears the colors of nature.

  • Mentor-Pupil Relationship – Luke has two mentors: in the second film, Yoda is the ultimate teacher of the force and personally directs Luke’s training; Obi Wan continues to guide Luke throughout the series by reminding him of the power of the force.

  • Apparently Evil Figure with an Ultimately Good Heart – Luke’s love is able to penetrate to the human part of Darth Vader to save his soul if not his life. Vader appears as Anakin (literally “without Family”) at the end of the third film, indicating his return to grace or the good side of the force.

  • Woman as Temptress – Leia is used to tempt Luke from his Jedi training. Also, because of Han’s love for her, he is dragged into the rebellion.

  • The Devil Figures – The primary devil figure is the Emperor who always wears black. Darth Vader (“dark father”) also plays this role for much of the series.

  • The Father-Son Conflict – Viewers discover this in the second film when they realize that Luke is Vader’s son. The primary battle is between them.

  • The Outcast – Both Obi Wan and Han are outcasts, one for a noble purpose and the other for a crime. Both join forces with the rebels to defeat the ultimate evil. For example, Han’s colors of a white shirt with black vest symbolize his ambivalent nature and experience. Han Solo’s name means “hand alone.”
  • The Scapegoat – Obi Wan’s death is accomplished in order to save Luke’s life and allow Obi Wan to offer Luke greater spiritual nourishment.

  • The Star-Crossed Lovers – Lovers Han and Leia survive many trials: Han believes that Leia loves Luke; Han is encased in carbonite; Leia is captured; their social positions are disparate. They finally reach happiness together.

  • The Hunting Group of Companions – All of the band who help Luke form this group.

  • The Loyal Retainers – Separate from the Hunting Group, R2D2 and C3PO are the loyal servants who are heroic in themselves, risking their “lives” many times in service to Luke and Leia.

  • The Creatures of the Nightmare – Darth Vader, Jabba, and the Emperor as well as minor characters serve to terrify the heroes and their companions.

  • The Friendly Beast – Chewbacca and the Ewoks, more animal than human, represent the supportive force of nature.

Symbolic Archetypes:

  • Light vs Darkness – The three films are replete with contrasting light and dark images. Any time the characters are on the screen, their moral qualities are made obvious by the quality and quantity of light. For example, the bar scene is quite dark, symbolizing the degradation of the occupants. The colors of the various costumes are important in this regard.

  • Water vs Desert -- Wherever there is water and lush vegetation, there is an abundance of life—the force, such as Yoda’s planet of Degoba. This is in contrast to Tatoonie, the desert planet, which harbors such life forms as Jabba and his minions.

  • Innate Wisdom vs Educated Stupidity – The Primitive Ewoks play an instrumental part in defeating the technologically superior forces of the Empire.

  • Supernatural Intervention – The force (both Good and Dark) is clearly a supernatural entity, which governs the action in the films.
  • The Magic Weapon – Obviously, only a Jedi knight can effectively wield the light saber.

Name Symbolism:

  • Luke – means healer, with a quest to restore fertility to his planet.

  • Skywalker – means walks in the sky, heaven versus hell.

  • Han Solo – means lone hand or the outcast.

  • Obi Wan – means oh be one with the force or supernatural intervention.

  • Yoda – is similar to yoga or be one with the force, offering supernatural intervention.

  • Degoba System – can be rearranged to “be a god” – water versus desert.

  • Darth Vader – means dark father or devil figure.

  • Anakinmeans without family; Darth Vader gave up his family when he joined the dark side.

  • Millenium Falcon – means bird or prey and great change.

Archetypes Associated with Individual Characters:

  • Luke Skywalker – hero, young man from the provinces, initiate, quest, task, magic weapon, ritual, journey, fall, death and rebirth, unhealable wound, good vs evil, father-son conflict, mentor-pupil relationship, hunting group of companions, monster slayer.

  • Princess Leia – heroine, damsel in distress, platonic ideal, hunting group of companions, star-crossed lovers, spiritual earth mother, journey, initiate, good vs evil.

  • Han Solo – hero, task, journey, hunting group of companions, death-rebirth, star-crossed lovers.

  • Obi Wan Kenobi – mentor, outcast, journey, magic weapon, scapegoat, death-rebirth, supernatural power, the mana, light vs darkness, good vs evil, the ritual.

  • Yoda – mentor, supernatural power, water vs drought, the mana, death-rebirth, natural vs mechanistic, good vs evil, the ritual, the elf-figure.
  • Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) – devil figure, magic weapon, the fall, unhealable wound, father-son conflict, death-rebirth, light vs darkness, apparently evil figure with ultimate good heart, monster of nightmare.

  • Chewbacca – friendly beast, hunting group of companions, innate wisdom vs educated stupidity

  • Lando Calrissan – task, journey, hunting group of companions.

  • Emperor – devil figure, good vs evil, heaven vs hell, light vs darkness.

  • Jabba the Hut – monster of nightmare, good vs evil.

  • The Two Droids (R2D2 and C3PO) – loyal retainers, hunting group of companions.

  • The Ewoks – friendly beasts, hunting group of companions, natural vs mechanistic worlds.


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