Definition of an Archetype
ARCHETYPE –The model of a person, personality or behavior from which later examples are developed.
What is an archetype? Well, if you looked in A Handbook to Literature,
you would find three paragraphs about archetypes. It begins… “ This
literary term applies to an image, a descriptive detail, a plot
pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently in literature,
myth, religion, or folklore…” and it goes on.
This term, whose earlier meaning, "original model," or "prototype," has
been enlarged by Jung and by several contemporary literary critics. A
Jungian archetype is a thought pattern that finds worldwide parallels,
either in cultures (for example, the similarity of the ritual of Holy
Communion in Europe with the tecqualo in ancient Mexico) or in
individuals (a child’s concept of a parent as both heroic and tyrannic,
superman and ogre). Jung believed that such archetypal images and ideas
reside in the unconscious level of the mind of every human being and
are inherited from the ancestors of the race. They form the substance
of the collective unconscious. Literary critics such as Northrop Frye
and Maud Bodkin use the term archetype interchangeably with the term
motif, emphasizing that the role of these elements in great works of
literature is to unite readers with otherwise dispersed cultures and
Example of Archetypes Found in Literature
Some Important Archetypes
Archetypal Approach to Literature
A mythological / archetypal approach to literature assumes that there is a collection of symbols, images, characters, and motifs (i.e. archetypes) that evokes basically the same response in all people. According to the psychologist Carl Jung, mankind possesses a "collective unconscious"
that contains these archetypes and that is common to all of humanity.
Myth critics identify these archetypal patterns and discuss how they
function in the works. They believe that these archetypes are the
source of much of literature’s power.