Archetypes In Literature Essay Example

Archetype Definition

In literature, an archetype is a typical character, an action, or a situation that seems to represent universal patterns of human nature.

An archetype, also known as “universal symbol,” may be a character, a theme, a symbol, or even a setting. Many literary critics 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 literary work.

Carl 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. Such experiences include such things as love, religion, death, birth, life, struggle, and survival. These experiences exist in the subconscious of every individual, and are re-created in literary works, or in other forms of art.

Examples of Archetype in Literature

Below is the analysis of common archetypes that exist in literature.

Archetypes in Characters

Example #1: 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. Examples of hero include Beowulf, in the book Beowulf, Hercules, in the book Hercules, and d’Artagnan, from The Three Musketeers.

Example #2: The Mother Figure

Such a character may be represented as a Fairy God Mother, who guides and directs a child, Mother Earth, who contacts people and offers spiritual and emotional nourishment, or a Stepmother who treats their stepchildren poorly. Examples of a mother figure include:

In Literature:

  • Lucy and Madame Defarge, from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
  • Disely, from William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
  • Gladriel, from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
  • Glinda, from the Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In Fairy Tales:

  • The wicked stepmother in Charles Perrault’s Cinderella
  • The fairy godmothers in Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty
  • Mother Goose
  • The grandmother in Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood

In Mythology:

The mythological figures of Persephone, Demeter, Hecate, Gorgon, Medusa

Example #3: The Innocent Youth

He or she is inexperienced, with many weaknesses, and seeks safety with others. Others like him or 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. Examples of innocent youth include:

  • Pip in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
  • Nicholas in Charles Dickens’ The Life and Adventures ofNicholas Nickleby
  • Joseph from Henry Fielding’s The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews

Example #4: 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. Examples of mentor include:

  • Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
  • Parson Adams in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews
  • Senex in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door

Example #5: The Doppelganger

It is a duplicate or shadow of a character, which represents the evil side of his personality. Examples of doppelganger in popular literary works include:

  • William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s William Wilson
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Example #6: The Scapegoat

A character that takes the blame for everything bad that happens. Examples of scapegoat include:

  • Snowball, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Example #7: 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. Examples of villain include:

  • Shere Khan, from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book stories
  • Long John Silver, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island

Archetypes in Situations

Example #8: The Journey

The main character takes a journey, which may be physical or emotional, to understand his or her personality, and the nature of the world. Examples of archetype in journey include:

  • Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy
  • Henry Fielding’s The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams
  • Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

Example #9: The Initiation

The main character undergoes experiences that lead him towards maturity. Examples of archetypes in initiation include:

  • Henry Fielding’s History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
  • Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
  • Voltaire’s Candide

Example #10: Good Versus Evil

It represents the clash of forces that represent goodness with those that represent evil. Examples of this archetype include:

  • William Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Example #11: The Fall

The main character falls from grace in consequence of his or her own actions. Examples of archetype in fall include:

  • Oedipus, from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex
  • Lear, from William Shakespeare’s King Lear

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 archetypes, writers attempt to impart realism to their works, as the situations and characters are drawn from the experiences of the world.

The Mother Archetype


An archetype is a character that represents how the general public feel that the character should look and act in a situation. And archetype is a universal model of expectations and closely matches an idealistically image. The meaning of an archetype is not just focussed on characters it can also apply to a theme, setting or a symbol. The Psychologist Carl Jung, felt that use of archetypes is a ‘’collective consciousness’, that is part of a shared opinion that can apply to a group of people, a race, a country or mankind. There are many types of archetypes that can illustrate different emotions (such as love or hate) or shared experiences or reactions to experiences (such as the struggle for survival or death).


Archetypal representations can come in the form of Literature or Art. The purpose of using archetypal characters in written work helps the readers to identify with the characters. This strategy give realism to the written work as the characters and story lines are devised to be parallel to real life stories and experiences. It makes the story seem real and culturally correct.


There are many archetype characters that are used in literature. One of the most important archetypes that are always found in a story is the character of the hero or heroine. They represent goodness. Goodness and evil are always in conflict so the villain is the opposite of the hero or heroine, they do whatever they can to destroy order. The villain does not have to be as dastardly as ‘Captain Hook’ in Peter Pan, but you will find that all villains will have a lot in common including attitude.


The mother archetype is usually a ‘Mother Earth’ type of character much like a Fairy God Mother or ‘Glenda the good witch’ in The Wizard of OZ or very typically the ‘Fairy Godmother’ in Cinderella. The mother archetype is always goo and kind, they always see the best in people and in Literature they are usually found supporting the downtrodden Heroine. The mother figure always visits people in their time of need, they always know exactly what to do and what to say. They are usually not shallow people as they have a spiritual aura surrounding them. The archetypal mother figure is not a new literary invention there are examples of the mother figure found in mythologies, in particular the character of Persephone is a very idealistic mother figure of an earth mother. Other mythical archetypal characters are Demeter and Medusa. The archetypal mother has a history as far back as cultural history itself.

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