In personal coaching, positive psychology and spiritual mentoring, as well as in literature, an archetype is a proto-typical character, an action or a situation that seems to represent a universal pattern of human nature. The key element is the the thing can be represented across any domain and in any setting regardless of time, space or culture and still impart essentially the same message or feeling.
Archetype Analysis is then the application of the general templates of archetypes to unique settings to give a familiarity and sameness so interpretation and qualification is seamless.
In Jungian psychology, archetypes are highly developed elements of the collective unconscious.
Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams.
Carl Jung understood archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. Jung, Swiss psychologist, argued that the root of an archetype is in the “collective unconscious” of mankind.
The phrase “collective unconscious” refers to experiences shared by a race or culture. This includes love, religion, death, birth, life, struggle, survival etc. These experiences exist in the subconscious of every individual and are recreated in relationships, family and motivation works or in other forms of art.
Archetype Analysis and the Collective Unconscious
Archetypes are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world. They are autonomous and hidden forms which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures.
An archetype, also known as universal symbol, may be a character, a theme, a symbol or even a setting. Many personal coaches, life coaches and spiritual mentors are of the opinion that archetypes, which have a common and recurring representation in a particular human culture or entire human race, shape the structure and function of a personality generally.
Archetype Examples in Literature
It is a simple introduction with archetypes analysis in personal coaching to introduce the key concepts in terms of literature from widely known sources. At ncmhco support we appreciate that literature brings people together across all cultures. Let’s dive in with the analysis of some common archetypes from literature.
Archetypes in Characters
The Hero: He or she is a character who predominantly exhibits goodness and struggles against evil in order to restore harmony and justice to society e.g. Beowulf, Hercules, D’artagnan from “The Three Musketeers” etc.
The Mother Figure: Such a character may be represented as Fairy Mother who guides and directs a child, Mother Earth who contacts people and offers spiritual and emotional nourishment, and Stepmother who treats their stepchildren roughly.
Accessible examples from literature:
- Lucy and Madame Defarge from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”,
- Disely from Faulkner’s “The sound and The Fury”,
- Gladriel from “Lord of the Rings”,
- Glinda from the “Wizard of Oz” etc.
- Characters such as the stepmother in “Cinderella”, fairy godmothers, Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood etc.
- The mythological figures of Persephone, Demeter, Hecate, Gorgon, Medusa
The Innocent Youth: He or she is inexperienced with many weaknesses and seeks safety with others but others like him/her because of the trust he or she shows in other people. Usually, the experience of coming of age comes in the later parts of the narratives such as
- Pip in Dickens’ “Great Expectation”,
- Nicholas in Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickelby”,
- Joseph from Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews”
The Mentor: His or her task is to protect the main character. It is through the wise advice and training of a mentor that the main character achieves success in the world e.g.
- Gandalf in “The Lords of Rings”,
- Parson Adams in Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews”,
- and Senex in L’Engle’s “A Wind in the Door”
Doppelganger: It is a duplicate or shadow of a character that represents the evil side of his personality. Examples are in popular literary works such as
- Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,
- Poe’s William Wilson,
- Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde etc.
The Scapegoat: A character that takes the blame of everything bad that happens Snowball in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”
The Villain: A character whose main function is to go to any extent to oppose the hero or whom the hero must annihilate in order to bring justice
- Shere Khan from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” stories,
- Long John Silver from Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”
Archetypes in Situations
The Journey: The main character takes a journey that may be physical or emotional to understand his or her personality and the nature of the world.
- Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”,
- Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews”,
- Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travel”
The Initiation: The main character undergoes experiences that lead him towards maturity. We find such archetypes in novels like
- Fielding‘s “History of Tom Jones,
- Sterne‘s “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”,
- Voltaire’s “Candide”
Good Versus Evil: It represents the clash of forces that represent goodness with those that represent evil. Examples of this archetype are in famous literary works like
- Shakespeare’s “King Lear”,
- Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” etc.
The Fall: The main character falls from grace in consequence of his or her own action e.g.
- Oedipus from Sophocles “Oedipus Rex”,
- Lear from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” etc.
Function of Archetype
The use of archetypical characters and situations gives a literary work a universal acceptance, as readers identify the characters and situations in their social and cultural context. By using common archetype, the writers attempt to impart realism to their works, as the situations and characters are drawn from the experiences of the world.