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Archetypal Criticism
Archetypal Criticism
• The word archetype is from the Greek
arkhetupon, first mold or model, in the meaning
of being the initial version of something later
• In literature and art an archetype is a character,
a tradition, an event, a story or an image that
recurs in different works, in different cultures and
in different periods of time.
• Archetypal criticism focuses on those
patterns in a literary work that commonly
occur in other literary works. These
patterns include persistent images,
figures, and story patterns shared by
people across diverse cultures. Archetypal
critics are also interested in certain myths
and rituals that recur in a wide variety of
What is an Archetype?
• An archetype is a pattern from which
other, similar things can be developed. It is
a kind of “original model.” For example,
“the Flood” is an archetypal image that
exists in myths across many cultures. The
basic model is a huge flood covering the
entire planet, initiating a kind of “clean
Example of a Tradition Archetype
• In the Western tradition of Easter, Jesus
(considered the son of god in that tradition) is
sacrificed to save humankind.
• In the Eastern tradition of Mahashivarati, the god
Shiva drank a lethal dose of poison that
otherwise would have polluted the oceans of the
world, thus saving humankind.
Both of these traditions center around a
celebration of life and a deliverance from
Carl Jung
• Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that these
archetypes existed in the collective unconscious.
He based this assertion in part on the fact that
there are images, character types, settings and
story patterns that existed across cultures.
• He suggested that this collective unconscious is
not directly knowable and is a product of the
shared experiences of our ancestors. This is
why archetypal criticism is often discussed in
psychological terms.
Jungian Criticism:
• Jung theorized that
all humans carry
archetypes (universal
images and patterns)
in our individual and
Primordial and Universal
• Jung believed that the collective
unconscious and its contents are
primordial. That is, we, as individuals,
have these archetypal images ingrained in
our understanding before we are born.
• Jung also believed that these archetypes
are universal, which is why they can be
found all over the world and throughout
Archetypal Criticism
• Archetypal criticism therefore seeks to identify
and analyze the presence and variance of
recognizable archetypes in works of literature.
• These archetypes are said to be identifiable in a
wide variety of works of literature, as well as
myths, dreams and even ritualized modes of
social behavior.
Jungian Quest:
• Assumes that the monomyth of the Quest
or Journey underlies archetypal images
– Hero forced to leave comfortable
surroundings and venture in an unfamiliar,
new world filled with new challenges
– Meet wise old man who helps out with
guidance and advice
– Barrier tests the fledgling hero (tends to
separate familiar world from unfamiliar)
Jungian Criticism:
Bestow wisdom
Familiar world
Land of adventure
Archetypes on Parade
There are a number of identifiable
archetypes in literature, art and film
spanning centuries.
Some of the most easily recognizable
archetypes in character, situation and
symbol include the following:
Archetypal Characters
Wise Sage
Caring Mother/Earth
Mad Scientist
Femme Fatale
“Don Juan”
Star-Crossed Lovers
Stern Father
Damsel in Distress
Archetypal Situations
The task/trial
The journey
The Quest
The loss of innocence
The initiation
Apocalypse/end of
the world
• Pursuit of revenge
• Descent into the
• Searching for father
• Damsel in distress
• Banishment of the
Archetypal Critical Questions
• What images, symbols, figures, are
present that are present in other literary
• What myths, dreams and even ritualized
modes of social behavior are present?