introduction to archetypal literary theory

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					  A Beginner's Guide to
Archetypal Literary Theory
  What is Archetypal Literary
• Archetypal
  literary theory
  focuses on
  patterns and
  myths in
What is an Archetype?
       • According to Carl Jung,
         an archetype is a
         primordial image
         residing in the collective
         unconscious of a people,
         expressed in literature,
         myth, folklore and ritual.
         Essentially, it’s a
         pattern or universal
  Archetype Definition Cont.
• Archetypes determine the form and
  function of the literary works.

• A text’s meaning is shaped by the
  originating culture. As humans, we
  unknowingly identify with certain
  patterns, symbols and characters.
        Who was Carl Jung?
• Carl Gustav Jung (1875 -1961)
  was a Swiss psychiatrist, a
  close friend of Sigmund
• His theory divided the psyche
  into 3 parts:
First off, what is the Collective

              • The collective
                unconscious refers to
                that part of a person's
                unconscious which is
                common to all human
              • The collective
                unconscious arises in
                each individual from (1)
                shared instinct, (2)
                common experience, and
                (3) shared culture.
         (1) Shared Instinct

• The archetype of "the
  great mother" would be
  expected to be very
  nearly the same in all
  people, since all infants
  share inherent
  expectation of having
  an attentive caretaker
  (shared instinct)
(2) Common Experience

             • Every
               infant must
               either have
               had a mother,
               or a surrogate
       (3) Shared Culture

• Nearly every
  child is
  with society's
  idea of what a
  mother should
  be (shared
The Collective Unconscious
          • Jung believed that
            all humans share a
            universal psyche,
            which is manifested
            in dreams and
          • Literature imitates
            not the world, but
            rather the “total
            dream of
     How are Archetypes
    Expressed in Literature
• Literary archetypes can be expressed in
  3 different ways:

 Characters (hero, scapegoat, outcast,
 mentor, temptress, villain)
 Stories/Situations (tragedy, quest,
 rags to riches, death and rebirth)
 Symbols (light/dark, heaven/hell)
So What is Archetypal
  Literary Theory?
           • Archetypal literary
             theory identifies
             archetypal and
             mythic patterns in
             works of literature
             and discusses how
             they function.
           • Emerged in the
The Hero
    • The hero is a character
      who embodies key traits
      valued by its originating
    • The hero commonly
      possesses superhuman
      capabilities or idealized
      character traits which
      enable him to perform
      beneficial deeds.
    Common Types of Heroes
Willing Hero:
Ready for action and destined
for greatness

Unwilling Hero:
Normal person thrown into an
unusual situation

Antihero: A bit shady and breaks the rules

Tragic Hero: Suffers at the hands of his
tragic “flaw”
           The Wise Old Man
• This archetype is
  typically represented by
  a kind and wise, older
  father figure who uses
  personal knowledge of
  people and the world, to
  help tell stories and
  offer guidance.
• Illuminates a sense of
  who a person is and who
  he/she might become.
The Mentor/Guide
          • Provides
            insights, training
            to the hero.
          • Often
            represented by
            the wise old man.
          • Found alongside
            almost all heroes.
          • Does not have to
            be human.
   Common Types of Mentors
Continuing Mentor:
Someone who helps throughout
Comic Mentor:
Adds some comic relief
Fallen Mentor:
Helping, but dealing with own drama
Dark Mentor:
Sinister– may be loyal or not
The Earth Mother
     • The Great Mother is
       commonly conceived of
       as a nature goddess

     • The mother archetype
       manifests itself in a
       host of deities and

     • Nurturing and caring
The Shadow/Villain
       • The Shadow archetype
         represents the brutal,
         animalistic characteristics
         of an individual.
       • It is amoral
       • It is responsible for
         unpleasant, socially
         unacceptable thoughts,
         feelings & behaviors.
       • Usually the antagonist to
         the hero
The Persona
     • The persona is the
       mask or appearance
       one presents to the
     • A well developed
       individual may have
       several personae for
       different social
    The Animus and Anima
The Anima is      The Animus is
the feminine      the male
archetype in      archetype in
men               women
(gentleness,      (assertive,
patience,         controlling,
receptiveness).   fighting spirit).
The Trickster
       • A trickster is a god,
         goddess, spirit, or
         human hero who breaks
         the rules of the gods or
         nature, sometimes
         maliciously but usually
         with positive effects.

       • Tricksters can be
         cunning or foolish or
         both; they are often
         very funny.
            The Scapegoat
• A figure whose public
  death redeems the sin
  visited upon a

• Often blamed for the
  ills of society. Death
  makes them more
  powerful in society
  then when they lived.
          The Shapeshifter
• Character who misleads
  the hero by hiding
  his/her intentions and
  loyalties. Adds tension
  and uncertainty.
• Appearances can be
• They can also physically
              The Outcast
A figure who is
  banished from a
  social group for
  some crime (real or
  imagined) against
  fellow man.

Destined to wander
 from place to place.
           The Temptress
Characterized by
  sensuous beauty.

Hero is attracted to
 her physically.

She is often the cause
 of the hero’s
 downfall. She leads
 him off course.
      The Damsel in Distress
Vulnerable woman who
  must be rescued by
  the hero.

She is often part of a
 trap to catch the
 unsuspecting hero
 and allow the villain
 to win.
        The Platonic Ideal
This woman is a
 source of
 inspiration and a
 spiritual ideal for
 whom the hero
 has an intellectual
 rather than
 attraction to.
The Herald
     • Initiates the
     • Issues challenges
       and announces the
       coming of a
       significant change.
     • Carrier of the power
       of destiny.
            Symbolic Archetypes
Water in the Desert                Haven vs. Wilderness
• Symbol of rebirth or spiritual   •Places of safety contrast
  awakening                        with danger
Heaven vs. Hell                    The Magic Weapon/Item
• Sky = heaven                     •Symbolic of the hero’s
• bowels of earth = hell           inner strength or
                                   extraordinary quality.
Supernatural Intervention          Fire vs. Ice
• When gods intervene              •Fire = Knowledge, life
• May favour hero                  •Ice = Ignorance, death
                                   Light vs. Darkness
                                   Safety and innocence vs.
Quest               Tragedy
Star Wars           Romeo and Juliet

Rebirth             Comedy
A Christmas Carol   Twelfth Night

Rags to Riches      Voyage and Return
Cinderella          Mission Impossible
Two Other Dudes You Should

Joseph Campbell   Northrop Frye
Joseph Campbell
        • Joseph Campbell
          (1904 - 1987) was an
          American professor,
          writer, and orator
          best known for his
          work in the fields of
          mythology and
          comparative religion.
       The Masks of God
• Joseph Campbell
  believed all the myths
  and religions of the
  world to be “masks” of
  the same transcendent
• In his four-volume
  series of books The
  Masks of God, Campbell
  tried to summarize the
  main archetypes of
  these myths and
           Northrop Frye
• Canadian literary
  critic Northrop Frye
  was the first person
  to theorize archetypal
  criticism in purely
  literary terms.
Anatomy of Criticism
        • In Anatomy of Criticism,
          Frye attempts a general
          theory of literature, which
          he approaches from a
          mythic perspective.
        • Specifically, he identifies
          the four seasons -- spring,
          summer, autumn and winter
          with the four main genres
          of romance, comedy,
          tragedy, and irony/satire.
              That’s All Folks

For a more comprehensive list of archetypes, please see
the .pdf attached in the ENG 3U1 “handouts” folder on my

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