The Archetype

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the Archetype

Pronunciation: Archetype ( ar ki tip ) (Noun)

Archetypal ( ar ki ti pel) or Archetypical ( ar ki tip i kel) (Adj)

Archetypically ( ar ki tip i kel ly ) (Adv)

Archetype: A term brought into literary criticism from psychologist Carl Jung who believed that each person has a set of “unconscious” memories and images inherited at birth from our ancestors.
Jung studied people’s dreams and found that certain images and events kept reappearing in our dreams. This led him to study dreams and the power of these images. Jung theorized that since people all over the world and from different cultures had similar dreams and had similar images appearing in their dreams, that we must all be connected on some “unconscious” level. Jung developed the idea that we must all share a set of stored memories that he called the “collective unconscious.” These images exist in the minds of every person regardless of heritage, race, sex, or place of birth.

The literary critic applies archetypes to images or symbols, descriptive details, plot patterns, or character types that occur frequently in literature, myth, religion, folklore, and in our daily lives. Jung believed that these archetypes evoke profound emotions because they touch our unconscious memories and thus call into play illogical but strong responses. The critic studies a work in terms of the images or patterns it has in common with other poems, plays, novels, myths, biblical stories, and the total human experience.



Purpose of Study:

  • Become familiar with Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s theories.

  • Understand the significance of archetypes and what this says about mankind.

  • Understand the stages/steps of the hero’s journey/monomyth.

  • Become familiar with archetypal characters.

  • Learn about a variety of archetypal images, characters, plot elements, or details.
  • Learn to recognize/spot archetypes when they appear in literature, film, art, and life.

  • Apply this knowledge to stories we will read and study this year.


Note About the Significance of Archetypes:

Those who accept Jung’s ideas also accept a “universal connection” between all people. The study of archetypes in various myths, legends, folktales, and religions seems to prove Jung right (at least in part). Amazingly, similar story patterns, images, symbols, and character types exist in all known cultures. Some of these stories share remarkable similarities and may therefore raise interesting (and troubling) questions. A Christian, for example, may find similarities between the Greek myth of Deucalion and the Biblical story of Noah (in both stories the main character is visited by God/Zeus, is told that he and his family alone will be spared God’s wrath, to build a boat, and then wait as God/Zeus floods the earth killing everyone else). The Christian may then wonder what this similarity means: whether the Greek story may be true and the Biblical story simply the “Christianized” version of this tale (which would lead to further questions regarding accuracy in the Bible, faith, etc.—in short, a real problem). * Please do not let this bother you!* In fact, people of every faith seem to love the idea of archetypes because anyone can use archetypes to defend the validity of his own religion. The Christian can easily say that the similarities in the Deucalion story merely help prove that the flood did happen, that God played a hand in it, and that the Greeks merely modified this story to fit their particular religion of the time. In fact, even skeptics and atheists love archetypes because they can use archetypes to disprove whatever they wish. Basically, no one should take study of archetypes so seriously that it changes his/her faith in a drastic fashion. Really, it’s just an interesting concept, which proves either nothing or everything, but we really can’t tell which.

Classical Archetype Characters and Story Patterns

The following is a partial list of archetypal characters or archetypal events in a story/plot. Come up with one example for each.

Characters: Example:

Mother Goddess: A beautiful goddess that is connected to the Earth as

creator and source of life.

Trickster God: God of practical jokes. Wise and foolish. Base. Male.

Helps humanity.

The Scapegoat: The innocent who is blamed for evil.


The Young Hero: Boy (usually) who is inexperienced but becomes

involved in a great adventure/quest

The Benevolent Guide: Wise mentor who helps the young hero
The Princess: Innocent maiden, connected to young hero’s quest
The Tyrant: The evil ruler
The Jester: Similar to the Trickster God, but mortal
Plot Elements ( From the Monomyth ):

The Call to Adventure: the hero will receive a call or plea to help ____


Refusal of the Call: The hero refuses to help, but later agrees
Supernatural Aid: hero receives a magical amulet, weapon, or power

The Crossing of the 1st Threshold: hero crosses an obvious dividing

point on his journey. Often guarded by someone.

The Belly of the Whale: hero is thrown into the center of the problem/

danger he faces

Initiation: Hero becomes part of something new, something bigger

than himself

The Road of Trials: hero has many adventures and learns a great deal.

Often will die and journey to the land of the dead.

Meeting with the Goddess: Hero is symbolically married to a goddess

that represents the unknown; the union symbolizes his new knowledge

Woman as Temptress: then again, the hero may have to avoid temptation

in order to stay focused on his goal

Atonement with the Father: (at-one-ment) hero must come to understand

that he and his father are the same. He must accept his heritage.

The Ultimate Boon: Hero finds some kind of boon (gift, power, knowledge)

to help his people and fulfill his quest

The Return: He may at first refuse, but must originally return to his home

Biblical Archetype Symbol/Images

Symbol/Image: Represents:

The Mountain The meeting place between heaven and earth. Eternity. Transcendence. Also, an obstacle or challenge

Light God, spirit, truth, joy, purity, love

Darkness Evil, death

Olive victory, joy, purity, peace

Dove peace, purity, love, and in N.T. the Holy Spirit

Dessert/Wilderness Place of temptation, where one goes for meditation. Both God and the Devil are more powerful there

City Good: Jerusalem = City of God (symbolically)

Bad: Babylon, Rome

River Life, crossing it means dying-entering new life


The Sun Jesus

Winter Death

Gardener God the Father (brings order out of chaos)

Star Birth of Jesus

The Cross Redemption. Transcending suffering. Conquering death.

Christ’s sacrifice and defeat of evil.

Laborers Disciples

Crop Followers, believers

Bare Tree Cross

The World Non-believers (John: flesh, devil – renounced at baptism)

Strong, passionate friend Peter

Betrayer Judas

Oat/bread The body

12 Foundation

Vine Jesus

Seed The word

Prodigal Son (anyone similar to the Prodigal Son in the parable)

Fish Followers

Bread & Wine Body and blood of Christ

3 Trees Crosses

Lazarus Victory over death

Barabbas Rejecting Jesus

Unfruitful Trees Disbelievers

Fruitful Branches Believers

Salt & Light Followers (from sermon on the mount)

40 Trial/test (Noah, years in dessert, days Jesus was tempted)

Pieces of Silver Betrayal

Cup Jesus’ duty to die

Shepherd Jesus

Lamb of God Jesus


The Dead Non-believers


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