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Literary Archetypes

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  1. Literary Archetypes Ms. Geller’s Sensational Sophomore World Lit Fall 2013

  2. What is an archetype? • An archetype is a term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses in a reader. • In literature, characters, images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences, regardless of when or where they live, are considered archetypes. • Common literary archetypes include stories of quests, initiations, heroes, descents to the underworld, and ascents to heaven.

  3. Common Character Archetypes • The Hero: The courageous figure, the one who’s always running in and saving the day. (e.g. Odysseus, Harry Potter) • Threshold Guardian: Protects the “Special World” and its secrets from the Hero; provides essential tests to prove the Hero’s commitment and worth. (e.g. Rafikifrom The Lion King ) • Pirate/Cowboy: The rebel, nonconformist, revolutionary. (e.g. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean) • Childlike Innocent: Has trust, faith, and optimism. (e.g. Russell from the movie Up ) • The Earth Mother: symbolic of fruition, abundance, and fertility; this character often offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those with whom she comes in contact. (e.g. Gaia from Captain Planet)

  4. The Damsel in Distress (Princess): A vulnerable woman who needs to be rescued by the hero. (e.g.______________________) • The Villain: Most often the antagonist. This archetype is typically the nemesis of the hero. (e.g.______________________) • The Mentor/Sage: The figure who plays a teacher/advisor’s role to the hero. (e.g.______________________) • The Sidekick: The figure who is often an aide/friend to the hero and often accompanies the hero on his journey. (e.g.______________________) • The Monster: Unnatural, strange, mystical beasts; hostile to people; can be judged as good/evil. (e.g. Cyclops, Wicked Witch of the West) • Jester: clown or fool; not serious; helps to lighten the mood. (e.g.______________________)

  5. Situational Archetypes • The Task: A situation in which a character, or group of characters, is driven to complete some duty often of monstrous proportion. (e.g. Frodo’s task to keep the ring safe in The Lord of the Rings) • The Quest: Here, the character(s) are searching for something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Their actions, thoughts, and feelings center around the goal of completing the quest. (e.g.Shrek) • The Loss of Innocence: This is, as the name implies, a loss of innocence through sexual experience, violence, or any other means. • The Initiation: This is the process by which a character is brought into another sphere of influence, usually (in literature) into adulthood.

  6. Common Image Archetypes • Certain images that recur in myths and other genres of literature often have a common meaning or tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. • Water • Sun • Colors • Shapes, numbers, & other objects

  7. Water • a symbol of life, cleansing, and rebirth—represents the mystery of creation or a symbol of sadness Examples: Sea—spiritual mystery and infinity; timelessness and eternity Rain= rebirth, transition, or sadness Going underwater & coming back up (river, lake, sea, etc.) = rebirth (like a baptism)

  8. Sun • Represents energy, creativity, thinking, enlightenment, wisdom, spiritual vision, the passing of time, and life Examples: Rising Sun—Birth and Creation Setting Sun—Death

  9. Colors • Red—love, sacrifice, hate, evil, anger, violence passion, sin, blood, disorder, danger • Green—birth / death, fertility, luck, hope, jealousy, decay, greed • Blue—sadness, spiritual purity, truth, religious feelings of security • Black—power, doom, death, darkness, mystery, primal wisdom, unconscious evil • White—purity, innocence, death, terror, supernatural, blinding truth • Black/white checkered floor—fate (like a chess board) • Grey—uncertainty, ambiguity (blend of black/white) • Brown—earth, nature • Light vs. dark—good vs. evil, hope vs. despair, knowledge vs. ignorance

  10. Shapes/Objects • Circle (Sphere)—wholeness, unity • Egg (Oval)—the mystery of life and the forces of regeneration • Mirrors: symbols of self-reflection and duality (2 sides/choices)

  11. Numbers • Three (3)—represents unity, spiritual awareness, and light, 3 is considered a mystical number. • Four (4)—cycle of life, (earth, water, fire, air) nature • Seven (7)—unity between 3 and 4, completion and perfect order

  12. Animals • Snake (serpent, worm)—evil, corruption, sensuality, destruction, wisdom, temptation • Dark-colored bird (raven, hawk)—death, hate, corruption • Light-colored bird (dove)—peace, love, life