According to Carl Jung, a 20th century psychoanalyst, the similarities in motifs in stories across cultures and time periods resulted from the human psyche that knows no boundaries of culture or history.  These motifs, known as archetypes, are characterized by three important characteristics: 

·         They are primordial.  Archetypes are preconscious, instinctual expressions of the human psyche.

·         They are universal. The patterns appear across cultures and geography.  The repetitions cannot be explained by interaction among peoples of various regions.  Many anthropologists have concluded that the similarities in stories, even in remote areas, originate from experiences, attitudes, and problems that are universally human.

·         They are recurrent.  They express human reactions to essentially changeless situations. 

The number of archetypes equals the number of human experiences, but generally they fall into one of three distinct categories: situationscharacters, and symbols

Symbolic Archetypes 

  1. Light vs. Darkness- Light usually suggests hopes, renewal, or intellectual illumination; darkness implies the unknown, ignorance, or despair.
  2. Water vs. Desert- Because water is necessary to life and growth, it commonly appears as a birth or rebirth symbol.  Water is used in baptismal services, which solemnizes spiritual births.  Similarly, the appearance of rain in a work of literature can suggest a character’s spiritual birth (e.g., The Wasteland, the sea and river images in The Odyssey).
  3. Heaven vs. 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 mountaintops house his gods; the bowels of the earth contain the diabolical forces that inhabit his universe (Paradise LostThe Divine Comedy).
  4. Battle between Good and Evil- The two primal forces are constantly in opposition (The Lord of the Rings, Paradise Lost,Tweety and Sylvester, the guys in the white hats vs. the guys in the black hats, Cinderella vs. her stepmother).  
It should be noted that the primitive mind tends not to make fine distinctions, but thinks rather in terms of polarities.  Thus, when archetypes appear in a work of literature, they usually evoke their primordial opposites.  Good is in conflict with evil; birth symbols are juxtaposed with death images; depictions of heaven are countered by descriptions of hell; and for every Penelope, there is usually a Circe to balance the archetypal scales. 

Situational Archetypes 

  1. 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 (e.g., The Lion King, Excaliber, Idylls of the King).
  2. 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.  The task is not the same as the quest, but, rather, a function of the ultimate goal of the restoration of fertility (e.g., Arthur pulls Excaliber from the stone, Beowulf slays Grendel, Frodo arrives at Rivendale).
  3. The Initiation- This usually takes the form of an initiation into adult life.  The adolescent comes into his/her maturity with new awareness and problems along with the new hope for the community.  This awakening is often the climax of the story (e.g., Huckleberry Finn, Stephen Dedalus, King Arthur, the hobbits, Cinderella).
  4. The Journey- The journey sends the hero in search of some truth or information necessary to restore fertility to the kingdom.  Usually the hero descends into a real or psychological hell and is forced to discover the blackest truths, quite often concerning his faults.  Once the hero is at this lowest point, he must accept personal responsibility to return to the world of the living.  A second use of this pattern is the depiction of a limited number of travelers on a sea voyage, bus ride, or any other trip for the purpose of isolating them and using them as a microcosm of society (e.g., The Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, The Aeneid, The Fellowship of the Rings).
  5. The Fall- This archetype describes a descent from a higher to a lower state of being.  The experience involves a defilement and/or loss of innocence and bliss.  The fall is often accompanied by expulsion from a kind of paradise as penalty for disobedience and moral transgression (e.g., Adam and Eve, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paradise Lost).
  6. 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.
  7. Nature vs. Mechanistic World- Nature is good while technology and society are often evil (e.g., Walden, Mad Max, The Terminator).
  8. The Unhealable Wound- This wound is either physical or psychological and cannot be healed fully.  This wound also indicates a loss of innocence.  These wounds always ache and often drive the sufferer to desperate measures (e.g., Frodo’s shoulder, Lancelot’s madness, Ahab’s wooden leg, Harry Potter’s scar).
  9. The Ritual- The actual ceremonies the initiate experiences that will mark his rite of passage into another state.  The importance of ritual rites cannot be overstressed as they provide a clear sign post for a character’s role in society as well as our own position in this world (e.g., weddings, baptisms, coronations).
  10. The Magic Weapon- This symbolizes the extraordinary quality of the hero because no one else can wield the weapon or use it to its full potential.  It is usually given by a mentor figure (e.g., Excalibur, Odysseus’s bow, Thor’s hammer, Cinderella’s glass slipper). 
Character Archetypes 

  1. 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 that 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 his 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.  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, Dionysus, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus Christ, Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf, Frodo.
  2. Mentors- These individuals serve as teachers or counselors to the initiates.  Sometimes they work as role models and often serve as a father or mother figure (e.g., Merlin, Gandalf, Cinderella’s fairy godmother)
  3. Friendly Beast- This shows that nature is on the side of the hero (e.g., Toto, Lassie, Trigger).
  4. The Devil Figure- Evil incarnate, this character offers worldly goods, fame or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of the soul (e.g., Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Hitler).
  5. 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.  Their death often makes them a more powerful force in the society than when they lived (e.g., Oedipus, the Jews, any minority that is blamed for the ills of the times).
  6. The Outcast- A figure who is banished from a social group for some crime (real or imagined) against his fellow man. The outcast is usually destined to become a wanderer from place to place (e.g., some cowboys, Cain, the Ancient Mariner)
  7. the star crossed lovers- these two characters are engaged in a love affair that is fated to end tragically for one or both due to the disapproval of the society, friends, or family or some tragic situation
  8. The Woman Figure:
    1. The Earth Mother- Symbolic of fruition, abundance, and fertility, this character traditionally offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those with whom she comes in contact.  Often depicted in earth colors and has large breasts and hips symbolic of her childbearing capabilities (e.g., Mother Nature, Goldberry in The Lord of the Rings, Mammy in Gone With the Wind).
    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, Guinevere, Cleopatra, the Sirens).
    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, the Virgin Mary).
    4. The Unfaithful Wife- A woman married to a man she sees as dull or distant and is attracted to more virile or interesting men (e.g., Guinevere, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina).
    5. The Damsel in Distress- The vulnerable woman who must be rescued by the hero.  She often is used as a trap to ensnare the unsuspecting hero (Guinevere, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty).
    6. The Star-Crossed Lovers- These two characters are engaged in a love affair that is fated to end tragically for one or both due to the disapproval of the society, friends, or family or some tragic situation (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere).