English Literature


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The Influence of Archetypes on Popular Characters

Do you see similarities between characters like Yoda in Star Wars (1997) and Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954)? They are both archetypes, specifically the sage archetype. However, this is just one of many archetypes that can be found in literature, film, and other media.

Understanding Archetypes

Archetypes can be defined in various ways. Simply put, they are recurring examples of characters, images, or objects that are easily recognizable to readers. However, according to Swiss philosopher Carl Gustav Jung, archetypes go deeper. Jung's theory divides the human psyche into four levels: the persona, the shadow, the anima or animus, and the self.

The self symbolizes the merging of the conscious and unconscious mind. The persona is the projection of ourselves to the world, while the shadow represents our suppressed traits. The anima and animus represent the suppressed opposite gender within us. These archetypes create a complex inner world that shapes our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The Importance of Eros and Logos

Jung believed that the collective unconscious has two dominant archetypes: eros and logos. Eros represents the feminine and emotional, while logos represents the masculine and rational. These universal images can be found in dreams, literature, and myths throughout history. They allow individuals to connect with the collective unconscious and communicate on a deeper level.

The 12 Main Archetypes

Jung identified 12 main archetypes, which can be grouped into four categories based on their goals. These archetypes are so common that they can even be applied to brands. For example, M&M's may embody the 'jester' archetype, while Nike may represent the 'hero' archetype.

Types of the Self

Ego types are archetypes that strive to make an impact on the world. These include the 'rebel', 'magician', and 'hero' archetypes. The 'rebel' archetype, also known as the 'outlaw' or 'revolutionary', seeks balance in the world and may resort to extreme measures for justice or revenge. Examples include Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and Han Solo in Star Wars (1997).

The 'magician' archetype, also referred to as the 'scientist' or 'inventor', aims to create and achieve their dreams. However, their pursuit of knowledge may lead to manipulation. Examples include Prospero in The Tempest (1611) and Morpheus in The Matrix (1999).

The 'hero' archetype, also known as the 'warrior' or 'crusader', strives to make the world a better place through acts of bravery. However, they may become arrogant and prioritize themselves over others. Famous examples include Achilles in the Iliad (8th century BC) and Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (1954).

Social Archetypes

Social archetypes seek to connect with others. These include the 'lover', 'jester', and 'citizen' archetypes. The 'lover' archetype desires intimacy and love, but may risk becoming too selfless or naïve. Examples include Jack in Titanic (1997) and Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991).

Discovering the Power of Archetypes

By understanding archetypes, we gain insight into our own thoughts and behaviors, as well as those of the characters we encounter in literature and media. These universal patterns allow us to connect with others and tap into our collective unconscious, creating powerful and relatable stories that stand the test of time.

The 'comedian' archetype, also known as the 'jester', 'fool', or 'trickster', embraces living life to the fullest and bringing joy to others. However, their efforts may often lead to wasted time. Examples include Loki in Norse mythology and Fat Amy in the comedy film Pitch Perfect (2012). In contrast, the 'citizen' archetype is a relatable character whose main desire is to belong. They are often referred to as 'Everyman', 'regular', or 'person next door'.

The Importance of Character Archetypes and Their Distinction from Stereotypes, Clichés, and Tropes in Literature

In literature and other forms of creative expression, archetypes are recurring symbols, characters, events, and themes that possess universal significance and can be found across various works. Although commonly associated with Jungian theory, not all cultures and literary works incorporate archetypes. Nevertheless, they remain a valuable tool in analyzing and interpreting characters and events in stories.

The Urge to Fit In and the Desire for Freedom

Some characters in literature are driven by the need to fit in and conform to societal norms, causing them to lose their individuality. These characters are often portrayed as sidekicks who rely on their friends for encouragement to break out of their comfort zones. A prime example of this archetype is Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit (1937).

On the other hand, there are characters who yearn for freedom and seek their personal paradise or work towards creating a better world for others. This can be depicted through archetypes such as the 'explorer', 'sage', or 'innocent'. The 'explorer', also known as the 'wanderer', 'seeker', or 'pilgrim', is constantly in search of a higher purpose in the outside world. However, this can lead to aimlessness or even a loss of self. A classic example of this is seen in Homer's epic poem, 'Odyssey' (8th century BCE) with the character of Odysseus.

The 'sage' archetype prioritizes seeking truth and understanding above all else and is often recognized as the 'scholar', 'philosopher', or 'detective' in a story. These characters are often idolized as 'teachers' or 'mentors' due to their intelligence, but their thirst for knowledge can sometimes lead to inaction. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from the Star Wars franchise (1977) embody this archetype.

The 'innocent' archetype represents characters who long for freedom and possess a childlike innocence and naivety. They are often depicted as 'dreamers' or 'children' who are oblivious to the harsh realities of the world. Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello (1604) and Forrest Gump from Forrest Gump (1994) are both examples of this archetype.

Order and Structure in the World

Moving on to characters who strive to bring structure to their surroundings, there are archetypes such as the 'sovereign', 'caregiver', and 'creator'. The 'sovereign', also known as the 'ruler', 'judge', or 'boss', is driven by a desire to create a better world for their people. However, their fear of losing power can lead them down a path of corruption. Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth (1607) and Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series (1997) exemplify this archetype.

The 'caregiver' is often portrayed as a 'parent', 'helper', 'saint', 'supporter', or 'carer' in literature. They are known for their kindness and nurturing nature, not only towards those close to them but also to those around them. However, this can make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings (1954) and Samwell Tarly from A Song of Ice and Fire (1996) are both examples of the 'caregiver' archetype.

The 'creator' archetype is driven by the desire to express their thoughts and ideas through their creations, often in the form of art or invention. They are often perfectionists and self-critical in their pursuit of creating something that surpasses themselves. Examples of this archetype include Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl and Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future (1985).

Common Events and Motifs in Literature

Apart from character archetypes, there are also recurring events and motifs in literature and film. The journey or quest is a common event, as characters often embark on a journey to find something or reach a specific destination. This can be seen in the story of Odysseus, who sets out on a journey to return to his homeland.

Birth and rebirth are also significant archetypal events, often depicted symbolically or literally in the transformation of a character. Another popular archetype is the 'rags to riches' transformation, commonly seen in fairy tales such as Aladdin and Cinderella, representing the hope and desire to move from a state of poverty to prosperity.

Finally, marriage is often portrayed as a significant event in literature and film, symbolizing the union of two individuals and often signaling a happy ending. This motif is a common occurrence in stories.

The Significance of Archetypes in Literature

Literature is known for exploring a wide range of themes, and two of the most prevalent ones are separation and isolation. Whether it is a group of characters or an individual, this archetype is often used to portray their exclusion from family, society, or culture. By doing so, authors create relatable characters that enable readers to gain a deeper understanding of human emotions and experiences.

The Prevalence of Apocalypse and Creation in Literature

Religious texts like the Qur’an, Bible, and Torah contain archetypes such as apocalypse and creation. These same archetypes are increasingly incorporated in literature and film, especially in dystopian fiction, where the aftermath of an apocalypse leads to the formation of new societies. This allows creators to comment on ongoing societal issues and imagine the potential consequences of our actions.

Why Archetypes Matter

Archetypes are crucial in literature because they are universally recognizable concepts. Their repeated occurrence in various forms of art creates a sense of familiarity for the audience, making it easier to comprehend complex ideas and characters. Additionally, archetypes are flexible and can be applied to a wide range of characters, further enhancing the readers' understanding.

Moreover, archetypes help us make sense of the world around us. By recognizing archetypal characters and events, we can gain insights into ourselves and others, as well as cope with significant events in our lives.

Clearing Up Confusions About Archetypes

Archetypes are often confused with other terms like stereotypes, clichés, and tropes. While there may be some overlap, it is essential to distinguish them from archetypes.


Stereotypes are generalizations about the characteristics of a particular group or thing. They often stem from prejudice and can be inaccurate. For instance, the stereotype that "women are more complicated" is unjustified and harmful.


Clichés are overused ideas or phrases that are considered unoriginal and dull. In literature, common phrases like "once upon a time" or "happily ever after" are often seen as clichés.


Tropes are common themes, ideas, or images that frequently appear in a specific category of art. For example, a painter may have a signature style, which becomes a trope in their work. Similarly, certain archetypes, like government surveillance and powerful societies, are often seen in the dystopian genre.

The Differences Between Archetypes, Stereotypes, Clichés, and Tropes

While the concepts of archetypes, stereotypes, clichés, and tropes may have some overlap, they are distinct from each other. Let us take the recurring character of the "gay best friend" in romance stories as an example to understand this better.

This character is often based on stereotypes, such as being effeminate. They may also embody other stereotypes, like being good at giving relationship advice and providing comic relief in the narrative. However, the overuse of this character has led to their portrayal becoming a cliché, and writers and filmmakers are now trying to avoid it. This issue highlights the problematic representation of gay individuals.

The "gay best friend" character is a combination of multiple archetypes. They can be seen as a jester, providing comic relief, but also act as a caregiver, offering advice and support to the main characters. This example illustrates how archetypes can be intertwined with other concepts without losing their essential qualities.

Key Takeaways

  • Archetypes are recurring motifs, characters, events, and themes that can be found universally across different forms of art.
  • There are twelve types of character archetypes, divided into four categories: ego, social, freedom, and order types.
  • Archetypes are often confused with stereotypes, clichés, and tropes, but they have distinct differences.

Exploring the Role of Archetypes in Literature

According to the teachings of renowned psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, the recurrence of specific elements in literature is rooted in a collective unconscious that we all share. Jung believed that archetypes serve as a way for us to understand our surroundings on a deeper level.

So, what exactly are archetypes, and how do they manifest in literature? These archetypes can take various forms, including events like marriage, birth, or self-improvement, characters like the trickster, sovereign, or hero, and even themes like the apocalypse or creation.

Jung divided the human psyche into four main sections: the self, the persona, the shadow, and the anima/animus. These elements interact with different levels of consciousness, including the conscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. It is within this collective unconscious that Jung proposed the existence of archetypal imagery.

When it comes to categorizing archetypes, there are various approaches. One common method is through traditional character archetypes, where eight main types are recognized, including the protagonist, antagonist, reason, emotion, sidekick, guardian, and countagonist. Each of these characters plays a specific role in literature and other forms of storytelling.

But why are archetypes so essential in literature? As mentioned before, these recurring elements provide a sense of familiarity for readers, making it easier for them to understand the plot, characters, emotions, and events. Many authors have utilized archetypes to connect with their readers and effectively convey their message.

In conclusion, archetypes play a crucial role in literature as they provide a common foundation for readers to comprehend the fictional world presented to them. With their universal appeal and relatable elements, it is no surprise that archetypes continue to be a prevalent feature in literary works across the globe.

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