4 Types of Archetype & Their Examples

Archetypes are recurring symbols, themes, or patterns that appear in literature, mythology, and folklore across different cultures and time periods. They serve as universal representations of human experiences, emotions, and values, and resonate with readers on a deep psychological level.

What is an Archetype?

The phrase “archetype” was first introduced by a Swiss psychologist named Carl Gustav Jung. Jung proposed that archetypes constituted a component of the “collective unconscious,” a communal repository of human experiences, symbols, and patterns that extend beyond personal consciousness.

Archetypes are deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, and their presence in literature helps create a sense of familiarity and connection for readers.

As a literary device, archetypes can be found in characters, settings, themes, and symbols. They serve to evoke universal emotions and experiences, allowing readers to relate to the text on a deeper level. By tapping into the collective unconscious, archetypes add depth and resonance to literary works, making them more engaging and memorable.

Types of Archetypes

There are numerous archetypes in literature, which can be broadly categorized into the following types:

  1. Character archetypes: These are recurring character types that represent universal aspects of human nature and experience. Character archetypes often embody specific values, traits, or roles, and serve to express the human condition in a relatable and recognizable manner.
  2. Situational archetypes: These are common situations or plot structures that recur throughout literature, often reflecting universal themes and conflicts. Situational archetypes can help readers understand the underlying message or moral of a story and create a sense of familiarity and resonance.
  3. Symbolic archetypes: These are recurring symbols or motifs that carry universal meanings and associations. Symbolic archetypes help to convey abstract concepts and ideas in a more tangible and accessible form, allowing readers to connect with the text on a deeper level.
  4. Thematic archetypes: These are recurring themes or ideas that address universal aspects of the human experience, such as love, death, or the struggle between good and evil. Thematic archetypes serve to express and explore the complexities of life, prompting readers to engage in reflection and contemplation.

Examples of Archetypes in Literature

Character Archetypes Examples

The Hero: The hero is a central figure in many literary works, often embarking on a quest or facing a series of challenges to achieve a goal or save the day.

Examples of the hero archetype

  • Odysseus from Homer’s “The Odyssey,”
  • Harry Potter from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, and
  • Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.”

The Mentor: The mentor is a wise and experienced guide who helps the hero on their journey, providing advice, support, and sometimes magical assistance.

Examples of the mentor archetype

  • Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,”
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi from the “Star Wars” series, and
  • Albus Dumbledore from the “Harry Potter” series.

The Trickster: The trickster is a crafty and sly character who employs their intellect to mislead, control, or outwit others. Tricksters can act as catalysts for change or contest established customs, and they may have either positive or negative consequences.

Examples of the trickster archetype

  • Loki from Norse mythology,
  • Puck from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and
  • Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.”

The Outcast: The outcast is a character who is rejected or marginalized by society, often due to their unconventional beliefs, actions, or appearance. Outcasts can serve as a critique of societal norms and expectations and can also represent the struggle for acceptance and belonging.

Examples of the outcast archetype

  • Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,”
  • Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” and
  • Frankenstein’s monster from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

The Damsel in Distress: It is a character, usually portrayed as female, who finds herself in a precarious position and relies on the hero for salvation or safeguarding. While this archetype has transformed over the years, with contemporary literature frequently deviating from or questioning the traditional damsel in distress trope.

Examples

  • Princess Leia from the “Star Wars” series,
  • Rapunzel from the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

Situational Archetypes Examples

The Quest: The quest is a common plot structure in which the hero embarks on a journey or mission to achieve a goal, often facing numerous challenges and obstacles along the way.

Examples of the quest archetype can be found in

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,”
  • Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and
  • J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.

The Initiation: The initiation is a situational archetype that involves a character undergoing a rite of passage or transformation, often marked by trials, challenges, and personal growth.

Examples

  • the hero’s journey in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,”
  • the coming-of-age stories in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”
  • Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and
  • the transformative experiences of the characters in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

The Fall: The fall is an archetype that involves a character’s descent from a higher to a lower state, often due to a moral or ethical failing. This archetype can serve as a cautionary tale or a commentary on the nature of humanity.

Examples

  • Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Bible,
  • the downfall of Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and
  • the tragic trajectory of Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

The Battle between Good and Evil: This situational archetype involves a struggle between opposing forces of good and evil, often with high stakes and dramatic consequences.

Examples can be found in

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,”
  • C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and
  • George Orwell’s “1984.”

Symbolic Archetypes

Light and Darkness: Light and darkness are symbolic archetypes that represent opposing forces, with light often symbolizing goodness, truth, or enlightenment, and darkness representing evil, ignorance, or chaos.

Examples of this symbolism can be found in

  • William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,”
  • Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” and
  • J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.

Water: Water is a versatile symbol that can represent life, renewal, and purification, as well as chaos, destruction, and the unconscious.

Examples of water symbolism are found in

  • the biblical story of Noah’s Ark,
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and
  • T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”.

The Tree: The tree is a common symbol in literature that can represent growth, stability, and the interconnectedness of life.

Examples of tree symbolism

  • the tree of knowledge in the Bible,
  • the World Tree in Norse mythology, and
  • the symbolic tree in Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”

The Crossroads: The crossroads is a symbolic archetype representing choice, decision-making, and the potential for change. It often appears at pivotal moments in a story, reflecting a character’s inner struggle and uncertainty.

Examples of the crossroads symbol can be found in

  • Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,”
  • Oedipus’s fateful encounter at the crossroads in Sophocles’s “Oedipus Rex,” and
  • the various decisions faced by the characters in William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.”

Thematic Archetypes

The Hero’s Journey: The hero’s journey is a thematic archetype that outlines a series of stages and experiences that a hero must undergo to achieve their goal or complete their transformation.

Popularized by Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,”

The hero’s journey can be found in literature,

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,”
  • J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, and
  • Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

Love and Sacrifice: A recurring theme in literature that delves into the intricacies of human connections and the readiness of people to relinquish something precious for the sake of affection.

Examples include

  • the selfless acts of Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,”
  • the sacrifices made by Romeo and Juliet in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and
  • the devotion of Eponine in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.”

The Struggle between Good and Evil: This thematic archetype examines the conflict between opposing moral or ethical forces, often highlighting the complexities and ambiguities of human nature.

Examples can be found in “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

4 Types of Archetype and Their Examples
4 Types of Archetype and Their Examples

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