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Summary of Archetypes

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Phillip Wedgeworth

Center for the Humanities

Derived from the work of Carl Jung (pronounced Yung)


A. The Hero – Lord Raglan in The Hero:  A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama contends that this archetype is so well defined that the life of the protagonist can be clearly divided into a series of well-marked adventures, which strongly suggest a ritualistic pattern.  Raglan finds that traditionally the hero's mother is a virgin, the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and at birth some attempt is made to kill him.  He is, however, spirited away and reared by foster parents.  We know almost nothing of his childhood, but upon reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.  After a victory over the king or a wild beast, he marries a princess, becomes king, reigns uneventfully, but later loses favor with the gods.  He is then driven from the city after which he meets a mysterious death, often at the top of a hill.  His body is not buried; but nevertheless, he has one or more holy sepulchers.  Characters who exemplify this archetype to a greater or lesser extent are Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Perseus, Jason, Dionysos, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus Christ, Siegfried, Arthur, Robin Hood, Watu Gunung (Javanese), and Llew Llawgyffes (Celtic).


B.  The Scapegoat – An animal or more usually a human whose death in a public ceremony expiates some taint or sin that has been visited upon a community (e.g., Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery").


C.  The Outcast – A figure who is banished from a social group for some crime against his fellow man.  The outcast is usually destined to become a wanderer from place to place (e.g., Cain, the Wandering Jew, the Ancient Mariner).


D. The Devil Figure – Evil incarnate, this character offers worldly goods, fame, or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of his soul (e.g., Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Satan, the Faust legend).


E. The Woman Figure

1.The Earthmother – Symbolic of fruition, abundance and fertility, this character  traditionally offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those with whom she comes in contact (e.g., Mother Nature, Mother Country, alma mater).


2. The Temptress – Characterized by sensuous beauty, this woman is one to whom the protagonist is physically attracted and who ultimately brings about his downfall (e.g., Delilah, the Sirens, Cleopatra).


3. The Platonic Ideal – This woman is a source of inspiration and a spiritual ideal, for whom the protagonist or author has an intellectual rather than a physical attraction (e.g., Dante's Beatrice, Petrarch's Laura, most Shelleyan heroines).


4. The Unfaithful Wife – A woman, married to a man she sees as dull unimaginative, is physically attracted to a more virile and desirable man (e.g., Guinevere, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Lady Chatterly).


F. The Star-Crossed lovers – A young man and woman enter an ill-fated love affair which ends tragically in the death of either or both of the lovers (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Tristan and Isolde, Hero and Leander).




A. The Quest – This motif describes the search for someone or some talisman which, when found and brought back, will restore fertility to a wasted land, the desolation of which is mirrored by a leader's illness and disability.  Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance traces one facet of this archetype through the quests of Gawain, Perceval, and Galahad for the Holy Grail.  This situation is also used in Tennyson's Idylls of the King , as well as in shorter poems by Morris, Browning, and Arnold.  Ahab's monomaniacal quest for the albino whale in Moby Dick is a variation on this archetype.


B.  The Task – To save the kingdom, to win the fair lady, to identify himself so that he may reassume his rightful position, the Hero must perform some nearly superhuman deed (e.g., Odysseus must string the bow, Arthur must pull the sword from the stone, Beowulf must slay Grendel).


C. The Initiation – This usually takes the form of an initiation into life, that is, the depiction of an adolescent coming into maturity and adulthood with all the attendant problems and responsibilities that this process involves.  An awakening, awareness, or an increased perception of the world and the people in it usually forms the climax of this archetypal situation (e.g., Holden Caulfield, Huckleberry Finn, Stephen Dedalus, Eugene Gant).


D.  The Journey – Usually combined with any or all of the foregoing situational archetypes, the journey is used to send the Hero in search of information or some intellectual truth.  A common employment of the journey archetype is the descent into hell (e.g., Odyssey, Aeneid, Inferno, Endymion, Joyce's Ulysses).  A second use of this pattern is the depiction of a limited number of travelers on an airplane flight, sea voyage, bus ride, or walking trip for the purpose of isolating them and using them as a microcosm of society (e.g., The Canterbury Tales, Ship of Fools).


E.  The Fall – This archetype describes a descent from a higher to a lower being.  The experience involves spiritual defilement and/or a loss of innocence and bliss.  The Fall is also usually accompanied by expulsion from a kind of paradise as penalty for disobedience and moral transgression (e.g., Paradise Lost, Billy Budd).


F.  Death and Rebirth – The most common of all situational archetypes, this Motif grows out of the parallel between the cycle of nature and the cycle of life.  Thus, morning and springtime represent birth, youth, or rebirth; evening and winter suggest old age or death.  Anthropologists believe that fertility rites and vegetative rituals usually took place in the spring because this is the time of physical regeneration of Nature, an appropriate time to enact ritualistic statements of spiritual rebirth and resurrection.


Symbols and Associations


The collective unconscious makes certain associates between the outside

world and psychic experiences.  These associations become enduring and are passed from one generation to the next.  Some of the more common archetypal associations are as follows:


A. Light-Darkness – Light usually suggests hope, renewal or intellectual illumination; darkness implies the unknown, ignorance, or despair (e.g., "Dover Beach").


B. Water-Desert – Because water is necessary to life and growth, it commonly appears as a birth or rebirth symbol.  It is archetypally significant, anthropologists believe, that water is used in baptismal services, which solemnize spiritual birth.  Similarly, the appearance of rain in a work of literature can suggest a character's regeneration or rebirth (e.g., The Ancient Mariner).  Conversely, the aridity of the desert is often associated with spiritual sterility and desiccation (e.g., The Waste Land).


C. Heaven-Hell – Man has traditionally associated parts of the universe not accessible to him with the dwelling places of the primordial forces that govern his world.  The skies and mountain tops house his gods; the bowels of the earth contain the diabolic forces that inhabit his universe (e.g., Mount Olympus, the Underworld, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy).

Alternative Perspectives on Archetypes
“The Six Archetypes We Live By”

Carol Pearson, from The Heroic Journey


Plot Structure



How I suffered or how I survived



How I escaped or found my own way



How I achieved my goals or defeated my enemies



How I gave to others or how I sacrificed



How I found happiness or the promised land



How I changed my world


“The Nine Personality Types”

from The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Riso and Russ Hudson


Personality Type

Key Characteristics

The Enthusiast

Upbeat, accomplished, impulsive

The Challenger

Self-confident, decisive, domineering

The Achiever

Adaptable, ambitious, image-conscious

The Peacemaker

Receptive, reassuring, complacent

The Individualist

Intuitive, aesthetic, self-absorbed

The Investigator

Perceptive, innovative, detached

The Helper

Caring, generous, possessive

The Loyalist

Engaging, responsible, defensive

The Reformer

Rational, principled, self-controlled

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